This is the third of several student gun range field trip reflection essays from my fall 2022 Sociology of Guns seminar (see reflection #1 and reflection #2). 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 Mansi Patel
To use a singular word to describe my experience at the gun range, I would choose liberating. As a young liberal woman who grew up in Georgia, guns tended to be a very polarizing topic and still are. As mass shootings continued to increase throughout the country, public displays of protest on both sides of the issue also began to increase. Especially after the school shooting in Parkland, I began to not only educate myself on politics, but also notice the very obvious divide between the two parties– pro-gun and anti-gun. I quickly politicized the issue like the rest of society, but visiting the gun range reminded me that your views do not need to align perfectly with the narrative of either CNN or FOX. The only entity they need to align with is yourself.
I was extremely excited for the field trip, and not a bit nervous. On paper, I understand that guns are lethal weapons, but I do not think that it registered for me personally. All I felt was excitement because it was a new experience and definitely not something that I anticipated doing regularly after. I thought that maybe I would have a revelation after the range about the dangers of guns, but it never came. I felt confident in my ability to shoot.
In my opinion, my lack of anxiety about the experience came from desensitization about shootings in general. They have become so normalized within our society that I barely bat an eye when I hear about a mass shooting. In addition, I have never really sat down to think about how much these shootings have affected my mental state growing up. The obvious parallels can be drawn through school shootings, but there has always been a disconnect between the young victims of these shootings and the possibility of this happening to me.
Actually shooting the guns made me feel powerful, and I think this for several reasons.
First, I know that it was something that my parents would not be completely comfortable with. My parents are extremely protective and regularly think about my safety. In addition, I am a bit of a klutz and they only somewhat trust me with a kitchen knife. Growing up in a household where my parents were overprotective made shooting guns almost like an act of rebellion.
Second, I think the basic aspect of a gun being a weapon and fully understanding the power a gun can have. The kickback from the gun really emphasized this realization.
Third and finally, I think an aspect of feminism came into play. Shooting guns chipped away at the stereotype that women are weak. I learned that you must have a decent amount of strength to have good aim because of the kickback. You must hold the gun steady, and I got six shots on the paper. For my first time shooting, I was very impressed with myself.
Within our society, it feels like everyone must be on one side of the gun issue. Either you must believe guns must be eradicated from civilian hands or you must believe that without the ability to carry a concealed gun, you no longer have rights in America. These two boxes exist on opposite ends of the spectrum, and visiting the gun range brought them closer together for me. I learned that I can still believe in gun control and safety while still enjoying the sport of shooting. For this reason, I found this experience liberating because it taught me that experiences can be separated from political beliefs and that it does not change your core values.