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.
This is the eighth and final final reflection 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, sixth, and seventh reflection essays.)
By Grace Taylor
This class has made me think a lot about the role of guns in society, gun culture, and gun safety, as well as why different groups are so divided about whether the fact that so many people own guns is a good thing or a bad thing, and how we can make gun ownership less dangerous.
As I write this, it is hard to think about everything we read and talked about in class and not think about the terrible school shooting in Michigan last week, where parents bought their son a gun for a Christmas present, and then he went to school and used it to kill four of his classmates. I realize that these kinds of people are not the “normal” gun owners, and that millions and millions of people own and use guns safely and responsibly, but it is hard to think about the role of guns in society and not let the Michigan shooting, and all the school shootings before it, influence my thoughts.
I learned a lot this semester through our readings and our speakers, but I am not sure I completely “changed my mind” about guns in general. Going back to our field trip to the range, one thing that really stuck with me was just how dangerous the guns seemed when seeing them up close, and eventually using them. Firing them, especially the AR-15, felt intense, even violent, and it is not something that I particularly want to do again. We spent so much time on safety, and all the risks of shooting a gun, and I was very impressed by how good those rules were. But my first thought back then was that, if we need so many rules to treat guns safely, doesn’t that show how dangerous they really are, and do we think most people are going to be strict enough or smart enough to follow those rules.
That was also my reaction to several of our speakers. I respected how serious John Johnson and Melody Lauer were about training people to use guns safely. I respected how Rob Pincus wants gun-rights groups to be more honest about the dangers of “guns in the everyday,” and how he works with mental-health professionals to deal with the role of guns in youth suicide and other difficult situations. But I could never quite understand how they could be so clear about the risks and dangers of guns, and still be so enthusiastic about millions and millions of people owning guns as part of their everyday lives.
In general, I just could never understand or relate to this great excitement about guns, how guns are so tied up in people’s sense of culture and identity, and why people seem to need to own guns to somehow show the world who they are. There is a difference between saying owning a gun is a right, or shooting guns at a range is fun, and being so enthusiastic about people being able to do concealed carry of guns as they go into town or go shopping, because it makes them feel good or makes them feel safer.
The relationship between guns and personal safety is another thing I did not quite understand. Several of the articles we read, and several of the speakers we heard, talked about how people carry guns because they are so worried about the risk of crime and violence and threats to their personal safety: “No one needs a gun until they do” [quoting John Johnston]. But when I read interviews with these gun enthusiasts, or watched some of the videos we used in class, they seem to have such an extreme view of the dangers in society, like that there is a robber or a killer just waiting to attack them every time they leave the house. Every time I found this opinion, I wondered if they really believed that. Also, if gun-rights advocates are so concerned about risk, why aren’t they more concerned about all the risks of widespread gun ownership, from negligence, to accidental shootings, to mass shootings, to guns and mental health. I know all of our speakers were very worried about this kind of risk, and they have great training to help people deal with those risks, but pro-gun politicians do not seem to be, and so many laws are making it easier and easier for people to carry guns without training.
All of these issues about guns, personal safety, and what is happening with the current legislature came together for me in my final paper. In other sociology classes, I have looked at how to best try to address the problem of domestic abuse and intimate partner violence, and how to keep women and children safer and help them leave abusive relationships. Because of my prior knowledge on the problem of intimate partner violence, I thought it made sense for me to look at the role that guns play in the problem. The research was so clear that if there is a gun in the house, or if an abuser has access to a gun, the risk of the woman being killed by her abusive partner goes way up. With a gun, it is so much more likely that intimate partner violence turns into intimate partner homicide.
Yet the federal and state laws that could be used to protect women and children, and get guns out of the hands of abusers, are not nearly as strong as they should be, and the enforcement of the laws is weak and inconsistent. My paper talks about the Boyfriend Loophole and the Stalking Loophole in the federal laws. These are such obvious problems, but Congress has not been able to fix them in 20 years. State laws can be stronger, but there are still many states where judges and police cannot order guns to be removed from a home where abuse is taking place, and there are other states where guns can be removed but do not have to be removed. Again, I just do not understand how, if gun-rights advocates are so concerned about personal safety, they would not be doing everything they can to support laws to get guns out of the hands of abusers who threaten women and children.
In this class, I learned to respect people like John Johnston and Melody Lauer, Rob Pincus, and all the outside speakers who were so serious about minimizing the risks and dangers of gun ownership and maximizing safety. I still don’t understand their enthusiasm for guns, and I don’t agree with it, but I think if their view was more common, we could create a safer society, and deal with problems like the connection between guns, domestic abuse, and intimate partner homicide.