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 Hannah Coates
Honestly, when I signed up for this course last Spring, I was expecting it to be a class from a liberal-lens. In the context of Sociology and public health, I assumed we’d be discussing the harms of guns in society and better ways to circumvent their use. However, I think that naivety epitomizes why courses like this are necessary, especially within a liberal-leaning department.
Getting the opportunity to grapple with all of the opposing viewpoints, sentiments, beliefs, passions, and genuine fears in the process of this course, through live speakers as well as merely through raw research analysis, I feel like I have gained a much more comprehensive understanding of the role guns do serve in America for so many people and why.
While I wouldn’t say I have a concrete opinion on all gun issues now, I feel like I can understand and anticipate the nuances that make them controversial, and I could engage (and probably at least partially agree) with advocates from both sides. In my life going forward, I am eager to see how this knowledge will shape my opinions, conversations, and policy pursuits in the future.
Overall, I feel like the best way to frame the growth I’ve made is to outline some of the beliefs that I came into the class with, and then to update them with where I stand now.
Beliefs I had about guns:
(1) We would be better off if nobody had guns at all
While I could understand the need for guns out of self defense of other people with guns, I thought that not having them in the first place would eradicate much of the violence. It is true that the presence of guns makes the likelihood of violence/harm by guns greater. However, it is also true that there are times that guns are the only form of defense against other forms of violence, especially when differences between power and ability come into play.
Melody Lauer really helped elucidate this point to me when she spoke about females in situations of actual or threatened domestic abuse or whose former abusers were being released from prison. Going through the thought process of how I would handle a situation like that in my own life helped me realize the difficult binds that people are forced to face and the ways that guns have the potential to minimize some of that vulnerability––or at least give people some peace of mind that it will.
(2) Giving up guns would be a small sacrifice in the name of public safety
Guns are also a big part of people’s lives in the context of sport. In the same ways that darts, slingshots, archery, and golf are enjoyable outlets for people who like target-based activities, guns can be very cathartic and enjoyable for people. While I used to think that it was nonsensical to put someone’s life at risk for the sake of sport, this class helped reveal to me that that is a phenomenon that occurs all the time, and which we tolerate in a million other contexts. The danger comes more from the user than from the gun, and there is a natural adrenaline release that comes from shooting one.
Something powerful for me was the class discussion that one of the speakers [Randy Miyan of the Liberal Gun Owners] brought up regarding humanity’s evolution alongside, and sometimes even attributed to, projectiles. This relationship is predisposed, and for many people it would be a detrimental loss, even in the name of sport alone. Additionally, war, hunting, policing, and personal safety are all areas in which guns are invaluable to countless Americans, and I’ve learned that this is not a relationship I really have a right to judge, especially because those who respect and appreciate guns are usually not the ones causing the problems (though accidental gun injuries and death are common, as they are with many kinds of equipment). Many people truly believe that they are furthering justice and protecting others by carrying a gun, and while I don’t agree with that or think it is safe for non-professional civilians to feel as though they can mitigate controversial, split-second life-or-death decisions regarding the lives of others, I can understand why some people would think this way.
(3) Different types of guns make a big difference in the amount of violence committed
I really believed that military-grade weapons and the big automatic rifles and AK-47s were a big component of the problem, and that if civilians were disallowed from accessing them that there would be fewer mass shootings. A lot of this opinion came from the Las Vegas Strip shooting in 2017 with an AR-15, which felt (and was) so unnecessary and egregious. However, I have learned that the vast majority of shootings occur with handguns, which are hard to even regulate due to their prevalence on and off the mainstream market. Changing this would likely put more people in harm’s way (or believed harm’s way) than it would protect, seeing as Gun Culture 2.0 predominantly endorses guns for the sake of self-defense. Perceptions of danger, societal instability, gun prevalence in the area, and having a family can be big indicators of people feeling the need to take extra precautions to defend themselves, and now more than ever since the spike of 2020+. Seeing that most people who choose to buy a gun do feel safer in mental preparation for an emergency, there is real ease that guns can provide for people, even if they never end up using them. And, in general, the guns most commonly in the home/used by individuals who are not using guns for sport are handguns. Though guns are often the source of threat, they can also be the only source of a sense of safety for many.
(4) Gun owners are mostly White, southern, conservative, middle aged men (Duck Dynasty vibes)
While this trend of Gun Culture 1.0 has irrefutably carried into Gun Culture 2.0, there is also a much broader range of gun owners that have stepped into the picture. Gun ownership is not bound by race, gender, age, political orientation, or geography, as recent times have been especially indicative of. The phrase “Guns are normal. Normal people own guns,” has really come to shape my current conception of gun owners, rather than secluding the image to this one subgroup.
Watching the videos, hearing about the rise in female gun ownership, and speaking to a female gun advocate who is regularly surrounded by female gun advocates was especially eye opening to me. It was also helpful to read the literature related to masculinity-driven ownership, which can help to explain why this had so much of an impression in my mind. Additionally, hearing from so many liberal gun owners and listening to the arguments there was interesting for understanding the ways that guns have been unnecessarily politicized and could actually help promote aspects of a liberal agenda.
(5) The Second Amendment is outdated and would not have been intended to apply to the technological advancement level of guns today
While I formerly really believed that this was an oversight in the Bill of Rights, and the Founding Fathers would regret this today (you know, along with things like slavery and mass discrimination), I am coming to understand the degree to which guns are woven into the fabric of the nation’s spirit. While I don’t necessarily agree that it should be this way, I can see why, in a country founded upon the premise of individualism, freedom, and anti-monarchy representation, this would be something that would carry into the realm of guns. Obviously, in the 18th century there was a greater need for guns in order to hunt for food, protect one’s property, police, etc., however, guns also served, and continue to serve, social and emotional needs as well.
(6) Stricter gun laws and mandatory trainings would be universally good
I had always thought that gun control was a no brainer, and the thought of not requiring training sessions legitimately correlated in my mind to trying to drive without going through Driver’s Ed/a Driver’s Test. However, Rob Pincus, John Johnston (still not over this name), and Melody Lauer were helpful in explaining the downfalls of increased requirements for many people.
I thought that a lot of their arguments took a pretty dismissive approach towards the prospect of an actually-useful state-administered training program, and I was more inclined to think that this is something that could be improved in a manner that makes it worthwhile. But overall, I liked Rob Pincus’s discussion of how trainings can be promoted commercially, and I think that is a compelling route in our highly capitalistic nation. I think training is so important, and I’m glad that trainers/educators like Rob, John, Melody, and Craig Douglas help teach people to use guns responsibly, I just don’t think the existence of training options alone is enough to drive people to pursue them. There needs to be an actual requirement or a highly compelling incentive for people to get comprehensively trained.
The readings and the speakers’ explanations of the complications that requiring training makes in owners’ lives for issues of time, money, travel, etc. is definitely valid, and could discriminate and criminalize the poor, who likely would need the guns more, which makes this a tricky issue to navigate. I’m definitely still on the fence with this, but I think the best hope comes from manufacturers and shop-owners incentivizing training with discounts and rewards of that manner.
Overall, throughout the course I struggled with the concept that one human life is more valuable than another in the context of self-defense, but I guess I’ve landed in the opinion that if the perpetrator is taking multiple lives then their elimination would be net-positive. In a very ideal situation though, alternative measures could be taken to detain them and then provide help. There were some conversations that took place where comments were made that relied upon the presumption that feelings of threat could warrant the taking of another life, and I struggled to conceptualize that considering how much subjective bias goes into one’s interpretation of threat.
Areas I still would love to know more about in order to cement some of these ideas and develop more objective opinions include:
(1) International context
I know that the US is a really unique case when it comes to guns, so in many ways this would not be comparable to other nations whatsoever, but I do find it really interesting to think about some of the countries where not even police carry guns, and to think about other approaches entirely. I think this could help in presenting alternative perspectives to a myriad of gun issues.
(2) The process of constitutional appeal
As Rob Pincus made clear, the 2nd Amendment stands, meaning that no matter how much we debate about it, it is still the law of the land. What is the process like though in order to change it? Is this an option that would ever be remotely possible in America’s future? Though I don’t think it should be eradicated, it would be helpful to better understand the process of modifying it or the level of reality that it will ever not exist when contemplating approaches and options.
(3) The future of gun advancement and availability
In order to develop opinions about gun control and policy in general, I think it’s important to try to look into the future and make predictions about their progression, so policy can be flexible towards their shifting role and presence.
(4) More about guns themselves, how they work, what the differences are between kinds
We definitely did a brief overview of some of this, but I remember thinking multiple times throughout the course that I would be able to better understand arguments and references that were being made if I knew more about the inner workings and uses of certain types of guns when and where. While I have a sense of “handguns,” “rifles,” “assault weapons,” as general categories, I don’t know which gun names fall into the specific category, and I think a chart, graphic, index, or guide could help in understanding what the guns are capable of and how much access the general public has to getting them (/levels of regulation depending on type of gun).
Thank you for a wonderful and highly informative semester! This has been invaluable in my development and understanding of guns in America.