This is the first of several student gun range field trip reflection essays from my fall 2021 Sociology of Guns seminar. The assignment to which students are responding can be found here. I am grateful to these students for their willingness to have their thoughts shared publicly.
By Caleb Brinkley
To preface, I enjoyed the class range trip and thought it went well. My circumstances are different from other students in several ways, notably in experience and physical considerations. I have a relatively extensive background in the gun community with a focus on competition and training that extends beyond the level of the average American gun owner. Thus, what was unique about the range trip for me wasn’t the shooting per se, but the context in which it occurred in. The shooting itself was introductory level, as appropriate for the students since the majority had little experience with firearms.
I think the selection of firearms was appropriate. Starting with a .22LR is wise for new shooters. Selecting a 9mm Glock 17 and a 5.56 AR-15 are also appropriate, given that they are somewhat of a standardized option in the U.S., seeing widespread use and market support.
Additionally, it introduces people unfamiliar with firearms towards the “class” of arms most politically divisive- few people take issue with owning a wood stocked bolt-action hunting rifle or shotgun. Introducing new shooters to an “assault weapon,” given that it is the primary target of modern gun control efforts, is useful if we are to discuss their role as part of the larger context of guns in the U.S.
However, within the context of the political leanings of the gun community, my own beliefs, and the stereotypical impression of liberal arts universities, I never actually expected to be shooting officially under the Wake Forest banner. When looking through the U.S.’s binary political landscape, higher education tends to lean towards the progressive left while the gun community tends to favor the right.
I think this analysis is oversimplistic though, as the gun community has a litany of various subgroups that range from “alt-right” authoritarian beliefs to libertarianism to democratic socialists invoking the Marxist spirit of arming the proletariat. Overall, though, I would categorize the American gun community as being traditionally neoconservative with a more radical libertarian flare in recent years as the community transforms from preserving hunting and sportsmanship to invoking the “true” meaning of the 2nd Amendment.
Nonetheless, both political leanings seem at odds with that of liberal universities which tend to have policies in opposition towards private firearm ownership. I was pleasantly surprised to see the approach to guns more so as accepting the reality of normalcy in American society rather than operating under the presumption of guns being an inherent social evil.
I’m still surprised that Wake Forest and the Sociology Department allowed the trip and the class. While I believe (though subject to change, perhaps) that as a university overall Wake is still “anti-gun,” I commend those involved for allowing such an event. It seems silly to teach a course on the role of firearms in the U.S. without having a basic understanding of how firearms function. To me, this demonstrates a commitment towards academic objectivity despite it pertaining to a politically contentious topic, which is what I think the goal of higher learning used to be and should be.