This is the fifth of several student gun range field trip reflection essays from my fall 2021 Sociology of Guns seminar (see reflection #1, reflection #2, reflection #3, and reflection #4). 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 Claire Doe*
Prior to our trip to the gun range I had little experience with guns and held a deep fear of them.
Growing up in the public school system, after Columbine and during the years of Sandy Hook and Stoneman Douglas, I grew up accustomed to regular active shooter drills and terror over becoming prey in the classroom. I participated in student-led rallies post Stoneman Douglas that demonstrated the frustration and hopelessness we as students felt everyday in school over the fear of experiencing a school shooting.
This fear however was not limited to schools. Living in Charleston, South Carolina I experienced the heartbreak of the Emanuel shooting and constantly feared that similar terror would occur in my own church where our inclusivity has made us a target of hatred in the past.
I have developed an anxiety of being in large groups, going to movie theaters, church, or being anywhere that I believed could be the location of the next mass shooting. I now find myself both consciously and unconsciously establishing an escape route and making a plan of action when entering into a new environment in the case there were to be an active shooter situation. While I believe this to be safe and proactive thinking, it is also a burden that I believe my generation carries more than any other generation because of the gun environment we grew up in.
The argument over gun legislation and regulation in the United States is multifaceted and there are a range of perspectives, some of which I agree with and others which anger me. I do however find great value in learning more about the things I am fearful of or passionate about and the trip to the gun range presented a great opportunity to gain a better understanding of guns.
So while I associate guns with terror and mass shootings from the environment I was raised in, I also recognize their presence in America and the ownership of them by normal, sane people.
The gun range both shifted and reinforced my perspective on guns. Having had the experience of shooting the three types of guns I certainly feel as though I have a better perspective of guns than I did beforehand. While I understood their power, it was not until I shot the guns that I understood the skill needed in operating a gun and the pure force of pulling the trigger.
Before the gun range my only experience with guns was at summer camp where we shot a rifle laying down and shot skeet through a frame, which limited the movement of the gun. One of the immediate realizations and fears I had at the gun range was how the aim and control of the gun was solely in my hands. There were no barriers preventing me from shooting too far to one side or the other. This combined with the weight of some of the guns and kickback made me realize how difficult it is to properly and safely shoot a gun.
In movies, TV shows, and even in the hands of hunters or cops guns seem to be easy to operate and do not seem to take much skill. The use of them has always seemed effortless. Holding a gun and actually feeling its power I have a greater respect for those individuals who own guns but take time to actually learn and practice the use of them.
In the same way however, it makes me more fearful of guns being in the hands of untrained and unknowledgeable individuals as so much could go wrong. Knowing that some of the individuals responsible for mass shootings used that same force against human beings was sickening to think about.
Taking this into consideration, I do find it disturbing that guns are so accessible in America and it requires little to no training to own one considering how much power and force they hold.
Shooting at the gun range was an experience I appreciate having but not one I would necessarily seek out again. This being said, I feel as though learning gun safety and the basics of guns could be a beneficial tool in helping aid individuals who have anxiety about guns.
I now feel like I have a better understanding of guns and if I ever found myself in a situation where I needed to use one I feel much more educated and confident in doing so. This experience really opened my eyes to look at guns in a different light and I am very intrigued to further explore gun culture in America.