“I Surprised Myself with My Openness and Enjoyment of the Activity” (Fall 2022 Student Range Visit Reflection #2)

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.

Sociology of Guns student at the range, Fall 2022. Photo by Sandra Stroud Yamane

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.

Sociology of Guns student on range field trip, Fall 2022. Photo by Sandra Stroud Yamane

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.

15 thoughts on ““I Surprised Myself with My Openness and Enjoyment of the Activity” (Fall 2022 Student Range Visit Reflection #2)

  1. It is somewhat funny in that an AR-15 in the standard caliber is considered in many places not powerful enough for deer/bear hunting and normal hunting rifles are much more powerful. Shows the overhype of the media

    Liked by 2 people

    • Someone with no experience with firearms doesn’t know that in terms of caliber, the .223 is considered small for hunting. But they do know that .223 rifles have been used to kill large numbers of people in short periods of time. So the former argument doesn’t really move them.


  2. AR-15s are among the most reviled weapons in the US for good reason — they were developed for the military and their use as a weapon of war is well-known. But as you point out, the firearm is also a lot of fun to shoot. The very characteristics that make it ideal for the armed forces — ease of use, light weight, modular design — makes the AR-15 a fun target shooting weapon as well.

    Just like common agricultural products can be used to make a terrible explosive devices, any firearm can be put to bad use. We should continue to focus on mental health and what drives people to perform terrible acts rather than demonize just the tool they happen to have handy for acting upon their pain and ill intent.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree with your assessment here. We talked more about the AR-15 rifle in class yesterday with Randy Miyan, Executive Director of the Liberal Gun Owners. Will be interested to see where the students are at next week on this issue.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I appreciate the time & resource constraints on your range day, but I wonder if the progression from .22 handgun > 9mm handgun > .223 rifle inadvertently reinforces the common false impression (actively promulgated by the anti-gun lobby) that the AR-15 is the apex of power & deadliness. A heavier-caliber hunting rifle, or the ubiquitous home-defense shotgun, far surpass anything chambered in the relatively light .223.

    That being said, your range day provides a great, hands-on opportunity for your students to widen their perspective. They are to be commended for their thoughtfulness and open-mindedness as displayed in these outstanding essays.

    If Ms. Dorfman or any of your students are curious to “understand the need for anyone to have a weapon like an AR-15,” this owner of a semi-auto carbine chambered in .223/5.56 (a “ranch rifle” in both function and product name) would be happy to chat with them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Good point Matt about that power progression and that’s why I always try to finish with a shotgun, or a bolt action C&R in 6.5, or the Mosin. They all make the AR15 seem like a pop gun.

      Liked by 2 people

      • A popgun by comparison but still one that can cause considerable harm in a short period of time, which I think is what many students are often responding to at an unconscious level. Trying to bring that to light and talk about it with some experiential basis is huge.


    • I agree in part with this assessment. Hunting rifles are heavier caliber and good at taking down big game. .223 rifle is a lighter caliber and is good at taking down small game, like humans. Thankfully 99.999% of owners of ARs will never take advantage of that capacity. But these students have lived through horrific events that show the deadliness of the AR, even if it is comparatively underpowered in terms of caliber.


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