As noted earlier, the final assignment of the semester in my Sociology of Guns seminar is for the students to write an essay reflecting on their personal experience with and understanding of guns in light of what they learned in the course (full text of the assignment is here).
Here is the seventh of several such essays, written by a student whose initial reflections on our field trip to the gun range can be found here. (Link to first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth essays.)
By Connor Retell
What I learned over the last couple of months should have been painfully obvious from the outset: guns are as complex as any other debate. For some reason, however, I had always thought of this as a black and white issue. I struggled to find the reason and justification behind gun ownership, so their use was nothing but a negative influence on society. Worse than that, the most popular people articulating the argument for guns were (and remain) repulsive. Nevertheless, this course opened my eye to the numerous, legitimate roles that guns play in society. Even more so, I was taken aback by the number of people who advocate for their responsible use in good faith. These are people who devote their lives to making the gun world a more welcoming one. So while my personal connections to guns remain unchanged, and my research only strengthened my belief that specific gun control measures are worthwhile policies to pursue, I have a new understanding of America’s gun culture. This, in turn, makes for far more productive discourse and enhances my ability to learn new information.
This course was taught with an unapologetic angle and bias – something that I greatly respect. Importantly, there were a lot of our assigned reading that challenged class discussions, but everyone who participated in our Zoom sessions was undoubtedly pushing a narrative. I liked that. For information is useless if not put in the proper human context. I really have an issue when professors or teachers pretend to lack an opinion. It was no secret that Dr. Yamane liked guns, or at very least had an appreciation for guns as a means of protection; he made that clear from the first day. I would say that the overwhelming majority of my most poignant moments came from listening to our many guest speakers. Guest speakers that, again, were not hiding their personal connections to firearms. I do not have a place for a firearm in my life, I just would have no use for it. However, I find myself more sympathetic to the argument that others find it to be their last line of defense. I completely disagree with this assessment, but who am I to tell someone else that their feeling of safety is misguided? That is a pretty big change in how I view things. Beforehand, I was not willing to acknowledge any such argument that would actually give a legitimate role to guns in society.
Since much of our discussion in class revolved around gun’s role in society as opposed to its legality, my opinion in this sphere remains largely unaffected. I interpret the Second Amendment to the Constitution in an entirely different way than the Supreme Court and most gun rights advocates. This was touched on by some of our guests – how many gun regulations were an “infringement” on civil rights and liberties. I disagreed. I still vehemently disagree.
I began this class by writing a reflection about how my background has influenced my understanding of guns in the United States. I grew up without guns in the home, and my ultra-conservative father (surprisingly) never felt passionate about this subject. If anything, my entire family seemed turned off to guns because of the very red, very gun-proud district in which we lived. I had not shot a gun until our class field trip and knew very little logistics. My scant knowledge of magazines, sights, and other gun basics came from the small amount of time I had spent playing Call of Duty. This was not ideal, and while I am by no means an expert on guns now, I feel confident that I understand a common gripe of gun advocates: You should understand what you are advocate. In other words, know what an “assault weapons ban” really means if you push its merits. Legislation often struggles to properly define things, and it ends up that banning grips and other accessories (instead of the gun, itself). People ought to know what they are really talking about, and I want to hold myself to that standard.
The last thing I wish to discuss in this reflection is not really a discussion at all, but rather a lamentation of the current state of this debate. I feel like this course was a bubble of intellectually curious people trying to find their way to the truth. Of course, not without our pre-conceived notions and biases, but it was honest discussion in an attempt to learn something from one another. I tried to understand how guns could be gone tomorrow and I would not bat an eye, while some people’s lives would never be the same. We sought to discover whether lack of access to firearms really reduced the suicide rate, the impact of concealed carry, police use of force, and homicide. Compare that type of behavior with how this argument is expressed on the national stage. Wayne LaPierre would have you believe that not owning a gun is tantamount to treason. Shannon Watts is not interested in any sort of middle ground. And I will say it again, I appreciate people that are not afraid to be partisan. But there is a difference between being partisan and being purposely destructive.
In the end, I have not changed my mind on my personal need for a firearm, the greater role of firearms in society, or the apparent need for certain gun control measures. However, I now fully recognize and appreciate the nuance that comes with gun control thanks to the final research project. No, all gun control does not work as intended. Furthermore, when a gun rights advocate recites their argument, it will fall upon far more sympathetic ears. That is the change this course gave me. Thus, I truly long to see a shift in the national discourse. I hope that my views on all issues, not only the issue of guns, never cease to evolve. The moment that they become stagnant is a moment that I will avoid like the plague. I was happy to take a course like this – it certainly aids in that mission.