This is the fourth of several student gun range field trip reflection essays from my fall 2022 Sociology of Guns seminar (see reflection #1 and reflection #2 and reflection #3). 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 Elisabeth Kuguru
My experience shooting a gun for the first time today mostly fits with my prior understanding of guns in the US. In recent years, I have become a lot more open to shooting at gun ranges, but I could never picture myself picking up a gun and shooting. Growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, guns were always meant to be feared. They are completely illegal in Kenya, however guards and police are permitted to carry them. When living there, I knew that if a gun was involved it could only mean danger. Although I did not have to be fearful of school shootings in Nairobi, I was wary of terrorist attacks. These were my first impressions of guns, so I was shocked to come to North Carolina to see people open carrying in Costco and at parties.
In my head, there was no gun debate. I believed guns should be illegal and it did not make sense to me that some Americans so strongly believed in their right to own guns. To think of guns as anything other than a lethal weapon against humans is a luxury that I could not afford in Kenya. After being in the United States for a couple of years I have become a little bit more open to the idea of me owning a gun.
I know that gun ownership is a right that Americans will stand by and am under no impression that guns would ever be outlawed in the United States. A couple of close people in my life own guns and I know it is purely for protection which is needed especially while being Black in America. As a woman who lives in the city, I am also no stranger to danger, so I can understand why people choose to own guns; however, I have never desired to own a gun.
Prior to this experience, the mere thought of holding a gun would have sent chills down my spine and made my hands clammy, but I found the experience to be a lot more neutral than I had previously expected. The gun felt more like a dangerous tool instead of the killing machine I thought it was. When I first began, I told Dr. Yamane that I was very nervous, and he replied good, that’s how you should feel! I was glad I was reassured in my feelings as I carefully but calmly held the gun.
Shooting itself was a bit nerve-racking but I felt like I was in control. Aiming was also easier than I was expecting. I am awful at first-person shooter video games, but I found that the gun does a lot of the aiming for you, you just need to line it all up. I was also expecting more uncontrollable recoil, however, when held correctly the recoil was quite manageable.
As we progressed through the different guns, I felt more confident and was quite excited to shoot the AR-15. The entire experience was quite fun and exhilarating. I would shoot at a gun range again for pleasure; however, I still do not think I would ever own a gun. Shooting at a range is one step, but in my head owning a gun is a completely different story for me.
Although today changed my personal reservations about shooting at a range, it did not change my perspective on the overall gun debate. Like everything we learn about in sociology, gun ownership, and the American gun debate is nuanced, so I am excited to learn more about the history and context of guns in the United States.