This is the second of several student gun range field trip reflection essays from my fall 2021 Sociology of Guns seminar (see reflection #1). 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 Mary Clark
As a self-identified “flaming liberal”, guns and gun ownership have always been a topic I am opposed to. Though, as a politics major, I strive to better understand both sides—rather all dimensions— of a complex topic like guns in the United States. My prior understanding of guns has stemmed from sensationalized news headlines and youth lead movements against gun violence, particularly with the rise of consistent and well documented school shooting incidents.
If you ever were to look at the news, or come out from the rock you’ve been hiding under, you would instantly find that the topic of guns is a complex and very personal issue for many Americans. As a young woman who grew up in a blue county of a red state, I understand that there are nuances to this debate that often get pushed aside for the sake of argument. Going to the Mocksville Veterans Gun Range complicated my view and understanding of my belief and opinions on this topic.
The shooting range brought up a variety of mixed emotions for me. Leading up to the event, I told anyone who would listen that I—a registered Democratic, and politically savvy individual—would be going to a gun range to “shoot big guns”. There was a certain amount of fear, but more strongly a sense of anticipation and excitement. I have never been around guns of lethal proportions ever, either in a negative or positive context. The closest I have ever come to a gun is in a rural North Carolina Walmart where people were openly carrying.
All that to say, I was more excited than I expected to be when arriving at the gun range. Granted, any field trip at the college level is unexpected but highly anticipated, and to go shoot lethal weapons really has a certain sense of risk and excitement.
My fear became surprisingly stronger once I actually picked up the gun. As a risk-averse individual I am very wary of things that are dangerous and to hold a weapon that has the capacity to end a life really put my senses on high alert.
As I am reflecting and rereading this summary of my thoughts, it strikes me that I have never been socialized with guns in a context of non-violence. The only consumption I have of the topic is from dramatic crime shows with over exaggerated death scenes and left-leaning media railing on the danger and destruction that guns cause. And while my opinions have not had a night and day shift to wanting to own a gun, it helps me to better understand why I felt that way at the gun range. I am not a person who hunts for sport and I am never around guns being used safely, so it would make sense that I don’t see them as anything but dangerous.
On the flipside of fear, the adrenaline junkie in me was exhilarated to be experiencing something new and dangerous; admittedly I was also a bit impressed with myself when looking at the target. Being able to hold and use a gun safely allows me to better understand those who use the object as a tool in sport. But I doubt I will be having any change of heart anytime soon.
It all boils down to the reason I wanted to enroll in the class in the first place. Guns are woven into the fabric of our country whether I like it or not, and nothing about them is going to change any time soon. So understanding why they are so villainized, sensationalized, and above all protected in this country can provide a deeper and more meaningful understanding of their influence in American society. As a politics major, I would be remiss to not think more critically about a topic that has been written into our history from its foundation.