This is the third of several student gun range field trip reflection essays from my fall 2021 Sociology of Guns seminar (see reflection #1 and reflection #2). 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 Hannah Coates
My experience at Veterans Range was surprising to me in more ways than one. Not only was the gun range different than I anticipated in appearance, structure, and regulation, but the act of shooting a gun was also eye-opening in comparison to my expectations, all in all expanding upon my prior understanding of guns in the US.
From the first class introduction with Dr. Yamane, wearing a “Guns Are Normal. Normal People Shoot Guns” shirt, to the vacant, short-range, outdoor gun range, in a forest right down the road from the center of town, the entire experience was really framed with a casual and unassuming tone. Though I was not initially nervous about this process, waiting for the previous group to finish up, I felt a little jarred by the sheer volume and intensity of the rifle shots that the other students were firing. I had not had any close-range exposure to rifle shots in the past, and certainly not while paired with the knowledge that they were commonly used for protection purposes in the U.S.
Experiencing the precision and power of a gun like that made me really surprised, and somewhat disturbed, that people would have those as household items for anything other than hunting or sport. That was the kind of gun I had only ever pictured in a big field, forest, or pastoral setting––never within a home.
In regards to shooting as a sport or activity, I definitely understand the fascination after my day on the range. I found it very exhilarating and satisfying to shoot all three of the guns––though I wouldn’t go as far to say cathartic due to the possibility of risk that I had to intentionally keep on the forefront of my mind in order to maintain safe gun use practices.
I was surprised by how many shots could be produced by one magazine, and usually expected to have to stop firing much sooner than I was able to. This was another element that was fun in the moment, but forced me to take a step back and imagine the danger that could ensue if there were human beings on the other end of the gun.
Especially in light of the recent shootings in Winston-Salem, this was something powerful for me to experience. Parts of me even felt guilty for enjoying it, which I guess reveals some of the prejudice I must have internalized about casual gun use, but at the same time it appealed to me that it didn’t have to be such a big ordeal, and I think it helped some of that bias dissolve for me.
Though many specific elements were surprising, generally, I felt that this experience also definitely fit into my perception of gun use in the U.S. Though this “sample” was definitely not representative, it still fell in line with my assumptions that the males in the group were the most experienced with guns and were most vocal about owning/using/planning to own, the southern students were generally more experienced than those from the north, the gun range was relatively unregulated (no forms to sign, no employees, no legal process or supervision), and it was set further out in the country, away from bigger cities. Even the name “Veterans Range,” falls in line with my perception that gun users see use as innately associated with military/patriotism/American spirit.
However, overall I think that putting myself behind the barrel was as powerful for me in normalizing gun use as it was fitting in line with my existing expectations.