Following their gun field trip reflections, the core assignment in Sociology of Guns is for students to move beyond their personal views (articulated in their field trip reflection essays) and adopt a scholarly approach to the question of guns in society.
Here the issue is not their personal experiences with or beliefs about guns, but empirical research on guns. Students consider the role guns actually play in society by systematically engaging sociological theories and studies (called “the scholarly literature”) on one specific aspect of the broader phenomenon (e.g., concealed carry, homicide, self-defense, hunting, sport).
Because there is a limited number of topics I can cover in a single semester, I encourage the students to choose a topic that is of interest to them that they want to investigate further.
The topics selected by students to investigate this semester are:
- Symbolic firearm usage in U.S. political activism
- Female gun ownership
- New gun owners
- Effectiveness of self-defense with firearms
- Gun use in Latino communities
- Illegal gun markets and crime
- Guns and masculinity
- Race and police use of force
- Guns, race, gender, and policing
- Religion and guns
- How do criminals get guns?
- “Assault weapons” and assault weapons bans
- Guns and domestic violence
One of the requirements for the assignment is that students incorporate a minimum of 10 scholarly books and/or articles on the topic. The sources must based on original, peer-reviewed empirical research.
As a consequence, the topics the students end up studying tend to be more conventional (like those listed above). Some more specific topics the students originally propose to study have to be thrown out or modified because there is not a sufficient body of scholarly literature on which to draw. This in itself is a learning experience because some topics the students think are important have not drawn much, if any, scholarly attention.
For example, there are not 10 scholarly books and/or articles on LGBT gun owners or guns in Asian American communities. I approved the topic on “gun use in Latino communities” with the proviso that the student might set about looking for 10 sources on the topic and come up empty handed (or find that the vast majority of studies will focus on criminal use of guns by gang-involved Latino youth).
Before submitting their final papers, students present a synopsis of their findings to me and their classmates in a “Celebration of Learning” so all can benefit at least a little from their work.