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.
Here is the seventh of several such essays, written by a student whose initial reflections on our field trip to the gun range can be found here. (Link to the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth reflection essays.)
By Adam Porth
Coming into this class, I had rather strong and consistent opinions on gun use in America. As I talked about the gun range field trip reflection, I grew up with a good portion of my life being surrounded by guns. However, the use I was most familiar with was that of Gun Culture 1.0. I solely knew gun use from my own experience as that of a hobby, whether it’s hunting or recreational target shooting, these were my only first-hand experience with guns.
Most of my opinions on gun use at a more macro level were shaped by the media. With the majority of who I was surrounded with and my media consumption being liberal, I was bombarded with gun violence and gun propaganda almost daily. It felt like every other week I would look at the news and see a headline the common buzzwords/phrases being “AR-15,” “mass shooting,” “police shot…,” or “gun violence.” From my media experience and exposure, my opinions on gun use in America were very bleak, to say the very least. I didn’t like assault-style weapons. I didn’t like the idea of guns being used as self-defense. I didn’t like police using guns as much as they do. While these opinions have only changed marginally, my views and knowledge on the roles that guns play in American society have changed drastically.
First, I realized that gun use is normal (as in more normal than I previously believed). We live in a country that has more guns than we do people. Guns play a larger role than recreation and self-defense; they act as symbols for the second amendment; they are a part of our culture that is seen in day-to-day life like American football. Millions of people use and interact with guns each year, yet it is only the stories about their violence and misuse that are seen in the media. Guns are a critical part of our society, culture, and identity that our country was built on.
Next, I learned that gun use and ownership are much broader than that of a Republican, straight, white male. From reading about gun clubs, organizations, and gun ownership from people of all genders, races, and sexualities, I was surprised at how common gun ownership is outside of the common stereotype. Obviously, I knew that some women, African Americans, gays, and other minority/oppressed groups owned firearms. However, I always thought of it as an anomaly in these communities. While it is a minority of these members that do own guns, it was fascinating to learn the role that guns played for them and the representation behind them. Gun ownership for a lot of these groups is steadily increasing, a trend we see as we grew into Gun Culture 2.0. Not only is gun ownership increasing in oppressed groups of people, but their symbolism and reasoning for owning guns can also be seen as a form of response to oppressive actions and attacks. Guns were often perceived as a mode of retaliation or an equalizer that keeps groups of oppressed people safe from some of the attacks and prejudice they go through.
My final big takeaways are related to my prior opinions on gun violence and mass shootings. To start, as discussed in my previous reflection, one of the most prominent thoughts I had about guns was related to assault-style weapons and the damage they do. Nonetheless, from our class readings, discussions, and my final paper, it is quite obvious that assault-style weapons do not do nearly as much damage as I once thought. Handguns are the primary culprit for a lot of firearm violence in the United States. Whether it’s police violence, a citizen’s self-defense, or an aggravated assault from a criminal, handguns are used in an overwhelming majority of incidents where a human harms another human. This is not to undermine the damage caused by assault rifles in mass shootings, but to point out how the legal use of these weapons is construed in the minds of people because of a small number of tragic incidents.
Additionally, I learned that how criminals get weapons is often related to secondary transactions, where primary retail sources play a much smaller role in criminal gun acquisition. Before taking this class, I was under the impression that retailers were the main source of guns to criminals. However, after reading the article Ten Essential Observations on Guns in America by James D. Wright, I was introduced to the idea that criminals get their guns from secondary sources, not from retail. I was really interested in this notion, so I decided to make it my topic for my research project. After considerable time spent reading the limited amount of literature on the topic, I found ample evidence supporting Wright’s claim, which completely altered my previous conceptions on the criminal gun acquisition and how to combat it.
Overall, my experiences from the class discussions, reading, and final project have changed a lot of my previous views and understanding of guns and the role they play in America. I gained an understanding of the fact that gun use is a part of American culture, oppressed and minorities own a significant portion of guns in America, and many more critical pieces of information that have enhanced my apprehension.
Nonetheless, there is still more that I would like to know to make informed choices about my participation with and the role of guns in my present community and future ones I live in. Recently, my dad has gotten into the idea of possibly getting a concealed carry permit after a lot of where we live has gotten unsafe. Due to this, I would like to know the implications of concealed carry and gun use for self-defense. For example, does gun use for self-defense actually protect individuals? Or does fighting violence with violence do just that, and cause more violence? Also, does having more citizens that conceal and carry have a deterrent effect? One of the articles we read, about a gay man that carries, talked about how having enough of the gay community carrying could have a deterrent effect. I am curious to see if he is right in his belief that having enough people carrying could diminish crimes against all individuals, not just the gay community.