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 eighth and final 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, sixth, and seventh essays.)
By Shi Williams
Before the fall semester, I would have labeled my knowledge of firearms as extremely limited. However, this definitely did not stop me from holding strong opinions on the matter. I knew that my views were a result of growing up in a liberal city and watching black people and children die at the hands of guns, but the problem was that I never had any evidence to back up my arguments. When people asked me to explain why I held certain views on guns, I rarely pointed to known statistics or figures. While I would not say that I was anti-gun, I was pretty positive that gun control should be much tighter than it is now. After taking the Sociology of Guns, I recognize that the topic is much more nuanced than I initially thought. I believe that the knowledge I gained has definitely redefined my outlook on firearms.
Granted, the United States is spotty on firearms statistics in general; I found myself genuinely learning new things from each of the readings. My biggest takeaway from this is that I think it is necessary to do so much more work, from a sociological perspective, on gun ownership. I think it is easy to see headlines on the news about mass shootings and immediately have a negative association with guns. However, those mass shootings only represent a small fraction of gun violence. By solely using a criminology perspective, we are missing a large part of the story on gun culture. Therefore, I turn to a bigger problem for why people are misinformed about firearms. With so little consensus on even how many guns are in this country, how is anyone supposed to discover the repercussions of them being around?
When reflecting on my final research paper, I found it really interesting to think about how our lack of knowledge of guns’ role in society impacts legislation. For example, it seems pretty clear to me that masculinity and gun ownership are correlated. The problem is that we will never truly know how much the association impacts gun ownership. It may be true that men own a majority of the gun stock, and the NRA uses masculine rhetoric to bolster support, but what would happen if that association did not exist? Those are the questions I attempted to answer towards the end of my paper, but I still have many questions about it myself in reality. As a society, I think that we need to do a better job of disassociating masculinity and dominance for the sake of women and minorities, but how will that truly affect gun violence in America?
After hearing to Michael Sodini and Rob Pincus about Walk the Talk America and its mission, I think I can agree that much of the problem lies in the way we treat mental health in the US. Being unemotional is a central characteristic of hegemonic masculinity, and I think that has affected why so many men have found solace in gun ownership. Instead of going to a therapist and talking about mental health issues they struggle with, men go out and purchase a gun to feel better about their unstable emotional state. This is problematic when we look at the statistics surrounding male suicide. I think this is a big reason I have maintained my previous stance that something needs to change regarding how gun laws currently exist. The only difference is that I have lowered the degree to which I believe gun control should be enacted.
The most significant change to my stance on guns this semester came after our zoom session with Lara Smith from the Liberal Gun Club. She has truthfully been the only person who has made me question my stance on more gun control. When talking about why more gun control will not solve the problems many people think, she mentioned the way that gun control has historically disadvantaged minority groups from owning guns. Prior to my conversation with her, I would have said it was a great idea for felons to be banned from owning firearms. However, she pointed out that many of the felons in this country are young men of color with drug charges. For some reason, everything clicked in my head at that moment, and I thought, “Wow, maybe there shouldn’t be stricter gun control.”
Nonetheless, I can’t say Lara Smith fully converted me. My stance on assault weapons and a need for some kind of change to gun legislation is still intact. However, I will admit that I am much more open to the idea of just doing a better job at enforcing the laws we have in place now. Even if the change is as minor as cracking down on how we enforce the gun laws created before, I think that would be a major step in making the country safer for everyone. The problem I still see is that many people view conversations about enforcing gun laws more strictly as a threat to their rights. This, I believe, is where a lot of the information from my paper becomes relevant. Even if stricter gun control isn’t the answer, which it very well still could be, how do we go about having more productive conversations about what to do with guns? Both sides are having trouble having genuine conversations, and I think it is genuinely hurting our ability to move forward in lowering rates of gun violence.
In the future, I hope the United States can find a way to minimize the number of lives unfairly taken by firearms. At this point in my life, I do not see myself owning a gun anytime soon. Although I may not be as opposed as I once was, I do not think that owning a gun will solve any of the problems I am having in my life right now. Maybe once I am living in an apartment by myself and feel more vulnerable, I will consider purchasing a gun, but even then, I’m not sure I trust myself to be as safe as possible. Gun ownership clearly comes with a lot of responsibility that many gun owners do not do a good job handling. If I were to purchase a gun, I would want to ensure that I never put myself in the position to misuse a tool that could end another person’s life. Overall, I’m glad I had the experience to gain knowledge about firearms, and the lessons I learned in this class will definitely inform my opinions on guns moving forward.