This is the second of several student gun range field trip reflection essays from my fall 2022 Sociology of Guns seminar (see reflection #1). The assignment to which students are responding can be found here. I am grateful to these students for their willingness to have their thoughts shared publicly.
By Audrey Dorfman
Prior to the field trip to Veterans Range, I would classify my view of guns in the US as predominantly negative. As I had previously never directly interacted with a gun before, I only associated the use of guns with the violence seen in the media in horrific crimes like mass shootings. I did not understand the need or desire to be a gun owner. However, the experience at the range definitely altered my prior understanding of guns in the US as I surprised myself with my openness and enjoyment of the activity.
When I first arrived at the gun range and gathered with the other students in my group to wait outside the fenced area, I was initially startled by the sound of the AR-15 being fired nearby. Hearing just how loud the gun was made me realize the true power of the weapon I was about to be interacting with. While I was a little bit nervous to handle the guns, I felt mostly excited; I seemed to be the most eager in my group to volunteer to shoot first. I wanted to approach the experience with an open mind, and I think this attitude allowed me to relax and appreciate my time at the range much more.
The part of the field trip that surprised me the most was how much I truly enjoyed it. I walked away feeling a sense of exhilaration and as if I had been relieved of the day’s tension and stress. I immediately contacted my family to tell them how great of a time I had with the different types of guns – however, this unexpected enjoyment also confused me. I was wrestling with the idea of how I could have so much fun with these different guns when they are the same objects I know are used to kill people every single day.
I specifically considered my use of the AR-15 as I thought of the several recent mass shootings where this very gun was used to murder innocent people – even children. Now that I had used this gun myself, I understood just how easy it was to pull the trigger. I also feel like the process of aiming the gun requires a focus that draws your attention away from thinking about what you are actually shooting at; I had to concentrate so much on lining up the notches with one eye closed that I did not give much thought to the target. I now have a better understanding of what it feels like to be a gun user in the US.
After some reflection, I’ve come to realize that I have perhaps previously judged gun users too harshly. My prior understanding of guns led me to believe that they were nothing more than dangerous killing machines. The trip to the range has shown me how thrilling the experience of aiming and shooting can be.
Nevertheless, I personally still struggle to grasp the vastness of gun culture in the US. I understand the ownership of smaller handguns and hunting guns, but I do not understand the need for anyone to have a weapon like an AR-15. It was quite exciting to use in the safety of the range, but it felt far too powerful to be a weapon that can be purchased by almost any adult. I feel like I’ve just seen too much damage and violence committed with these high-powered guns when they’ve gotten into the wrong hands to justify them being available for purchase.
Ultimately, the trip to the Veterans Range has challenged my prior understanding of guns in the US as I now feel that guns – when used properly and safely – can be a fun experience, and gun issues in this country may not be so black and white after all.