For the 7th consecutive year, I am teaching my Sociology of Guns seminar at Wake Forest University. The course syllabus is available as a PDF here and separate blog posts on each course module can be found below. In addition, links to every post on the course since 2015 are available on my Gun Culture 2.0 site.
The image below represents the three main objects I have in teaching the course, as well as the related assessments.
Guns and gun culture in the United States are strongly associated with political and cultural conservatism. So much so that what requires explanation is not the link between guns and conservatism but guns and liberalism.
One-fifth of gun owners self-identify as politically liberal, and another 40% as politically moderate. So, in fact only a minority of gun owners (40%) self-identify as politically conservative.
In this module we examine the work of one of the two major liberal gun organizations in the United States: the Liberal Gun Owners (LGO). (The other is the Liberal Gun Club (LGC).) We will welcome to class as a guest speaker, for the second time, Randy Miyan, the executive director of the LGO.
He will talk about his own evolution as a gun owner, as well as the LGO’s unique perspective on guns in human history and culture.
Questions and controversies around police use of force are not new, but have been animated by a spate of high profile cases in recent years resulting in the death of black Americans, including Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, and of course, George Floyd.
Although there is plenty of evidence of racism in our criminal justice system (as Radley Balko exhaustively documents, h/t Khal), and these cases are for many prima facie evidence of the same, as a sociologist I still cling to Peter Berger’s contention that “the first wisdom of sociology is this – things are not what they seem.” Of course, they may be what they seem, but our job is not to assume but rather to dig deeper.
This module tries to answer the question, What does the best contemporary scholarship tell us about police use of force, and especially racial disparities in use of force?
In addition to our reading (helpfully suggested by top policing scholars Justin Nix, Michael Sierra-Arevalo, and Kyle McLean), I am pleased to again welcome 21 year veteran of law enforcement, notably undercover narcotics work, and leading self-defense trainer Craig Douglas who will bring his Experiential Learning Lab to class.
I include the modifier “criminal” here, because descriptively homicide means causing the death of another person. This would include legally justifiable killing (e.g., in self-defense). Some who study “gun violence” actually do not distinguish between justifiable homicide and criminal homicide, but I think that is an important starting point.
It is also important to recognize that the majority of people who are criminal gunshot victims survive. Hence the gun trainer adage that “aggravated assault is just a failed homicide.”
The guiding idea of this module (as with the previous module on suicide and accidental gun injury) is that these negative outcomes with firearms are not randomly distributed through the population. Understanding the people and places where they cluster is essential to a sociological perspective on the issue.
Because this is the primary area of research on guns in the academy today, the recommended reading list is massive for this module.
I recently Tweeted for help finding some articles for my Sociology of Guns seminar. Among those who Tweeted back was Ted Alcorn, the founding Director of Research at Everytown for Gun Safety who currently teaches a course called “Gun Violence in the United States: Evidence and Action” at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. He provided a link to his fall 2020 syllabus, which I mined for sources.
Although it is not my area of scholarly expertise, like many I am concerned about high levels of violence in the United States, especially the most lethal and injurious forms. As I have previously written on this blog, I find myself returning repeatedly to an important truth: Everyday criminal violence in the United States is concentrated in places and among people that are most affected by economic and racial inequality. As the Rocket Armory t-shirt says, “Guns don’t kill people, systemic inequality does.”
One module in Alcorn’s class takes this issue of PLACE far more seriously than I had thought to myself.
With Module 8 the course shifts its attention to what could generally be called negative outcomes with firearms: injury and death, both suicide (Module 8) and homicide (Module 9), as well as issues surrounding police use of force (Module 10).
I am particularly interested in ways in which those involved in gun culture can play a role in reducing negative outcomes with guns. Initiatives like the Gun Shop Project and Walk the Talk America (WTTA) provide some models. I am pleased for the fourth consecutive year to welcome to class as a guest speaker gun trainer Rob Pincus, a board member of WTTA and co-founder (with Dan Gross, formerly of Brady) of the Center for Gun Rights and Responsibilities.
Module 6 is not covered in these posts because it is a work week for students as I will be presenting on Gun Culture 2.0 at the Outdoor Writers Association of America annual conference in Vermont that week.
Recognizing that the four parts of the Holy Quaternity of sociology (race, class, gender, and sexuality) intersect, the existing scholarly literature doesn’t permit a fully intersectional analysis. So, having treated race and guns in Module 5, I consider gender and sexuality separately in Module 7.
There is more scholarly work on gender and guns than sexuality, especially if we include the common focus on hegemonic masculinity. But, as I have noted previously, I was pleased to include the first ever peer-reviewed sociological study of LGBT gun owners in a special issue of a journal I co-edited and I will certainly assign that article.
Modules 5, 6, and 7 of Sociology of Guns focus on three of the four parts of the Holy Quaternity of sociology: race, gender, and sexuality (we touch some on social class, too).
There is no shortage of writing about how gun owners are racist, but my interest in this module is in non-deviant racial minority gun owners. Unfortunately, comparatively little has been written about this topic by contemporary social scientists (historians and legal scholars, like Nicholas Johnson, have done better), so I have to get more creative in putting together this reading list.
The liberalization of concealed carry laws over the past several decades represents a dramatic expansion of the right to bear arms in the United States. It is an integral aspect of contemporary defensive gun culture and facilitates the ongoing development of Gun Culture 2.0.
In this module we will review the development of concealed carry laws in U.S. history and consider how and why people choose to keep and carry guns for protection.