As noted earlier, the final assignment of the semester in my Sociology of Guns seminar is for the students to write an essay reflecting on their personal experience with and understanding of guns in light of what they learned in the course.
By Mary Clark
Looking back on my initial reflection from the Mocksville gun range trip, I can most definitely say that I have expanded my understanding of guns as they appear in American Society today. To review my previous experience with guns before this class, I have been a fence sitter for the majority of my life and this class allows me to continue to sit on the fence, with academic literature backing my inability to choose a side—or if there should even be sides in the dialogue.
As a registered Democrat in a red state, I have grown up with the concept of guns but not the actual physical existence of them in my life. One of the critical limitations of my previous experiences with guns, which I noted in my range reflection, was that I never think about guns in a daily, non-violent context. I have only ever seen them in drama shows or in the violent deaths on the news. Particularly in the context of police use of force against individuals of colors, I have been socialized to dislike guns and the things I associate with them. This class as been able to open my eyes to the complexities of gun ownership and how it has been normalized for many.
Guns can be a hobby to someone, like knitting or water aerobics, while the level of danger is drastically different, there are individuals that approach gun ownership and use with the same level of casual enjoyment. Not only to people casually use guns, but there is a growing demographic that own guns that would categorize themselves as ‘normal people’. This class has been able to open my eyes to the culture of normal gun owners, that are not die hard, bleeding heart advocates of guns, but are also not in the camp of destroying every firearm. Somewhere in the middle there are thousands of people that own guns for various reasons, and don’t have such extreme views about them. This has been one of the core focuses of the Sociology of Guns.
In an ideal world, I would still want to eliminate guns; that aspect of my beliefs on guns has not changed throughout the course. I am not a naïve romantic, however, to think that the elimination of guns all together would ever happen, in the United States especially.
One of my favorite class discussions covered this when Rob Pincus came to speak with us. The most valuable take away from his discussion with us is understanding that legally guns aren’t going anywhere because of the 2nd amendment. Pro-gun groups and right leaning people have been using the 2nd amendment for years in—what felt to me—like a much more inflammatory way that forced more division. The conversation seemed to end at constitutional rights and nothing more could be done. Pincus’s ability to acknowledge the shortcomings and valid fears of the general American public, helped me to be more opened minded and excited about the work he was doing.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, I have always toed the line of gun rights because I understand the value of hearing and listening to others. There are people—more than I expected before this class—that want to own guns and they are equally a part of this country as I am.
The thing I love the most about Pincus’s conversation and the general takeaways from this class were continued conversation and open-mindedness, as you say consistently, “Normal people own guns”. Not only do normal people own guns, but they don’t feel comfortable talking about their ownership, which limits the safe and practical use of the weapon.
The concept that comes to mind when discussing the normalized use of guns, was the inconsistency with concealed carry laws. I wrote in my original reflection “The closest I have ever come to a gun is in a rural North Carolina Walmart where the open carry policies are loosely enforced.” Little did I know before this course began, that often times those carrying weapons are not properly equipped to respond in an emergency, but because we are not interested in having open-minded conversation, very few people have questioned the certification and licensing process for carrying guns in public. Lack of knowledge seems to be the place where things go south, where individuals that are overconfident do not train, store, or carry their guns properly.
The realization I had while completing my research project was unexpected. When I originally sought to construct my research question I wanted to look at the historical and ongoing use of gun for women. As a searched “Gender” AND “Gun ownership” into the ZSR resource generator, I found the complicated ownership of guns for men. We discussed gender briefly, as well as the intersection of race and gender as it pertains to guns, but I was drawn to the use of guns as an extension of toxic-hypermasculinity. I believe this lack of open-minded conversation overlaps with hypermasculinity to create lethal consequences that disproportionately affect men. The module about suicide and gun injury exemplified the way men are so strongly affected by guns.
Overall I enjoyed the thorough dialogue about various topic in this class. Additionally, I enjoyed the open-mindedness of the group, with people ranging in perspectives on guns. The class dynamic made for interesting conversation that helped me to better understand perspectives that were different than mine. Going forward into the future, I hope to continue having productive conversations with people about guns that are not limited to a hostile political binary.