This is the seventh 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 and reflection #4 and reflection #5 and reflection #6). 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 Hanna Vasconcello
Growing up with immigrant parents in a city full of people like me (Miami) meant I did not have many chances to see day-to-day manifestations of American culture like guns. My first idea of gun culture came around 2012 after the Sandy Hook shooting. Because I had never had an experience with a firearm before, my immediate response to guns was negative. The intensity of my disdain for guns constantly fluctuated, but my general attitude was discomfort with the idea of owning, using, or enjoying a firearm. To me, they represented the ugly parts of humanity, like violence and destruction.
It was not until about a year ago that my opinion toward guns started shifting. As I have had to live alone and be in situations where I felt helpless, I have come to terms with how helpful a gun can be in protecting oneself. I also have friends who own guns, which has made me reconsider my negative attitudes toward gun owners. Therefore, my understanding of firearms was more accepting by the time the gun range field trip came around. However, I did not plan to touch or shoot a gun during the trip, an out-of-character decision for my adrenaline-junkie personality. I had never held a gun in my life, and I never saw myself as a person who could shoot one. Maybe I was still carrying some negative assumptions, or perhaps I was terrified of something going wrong once the gun was in my hands.
I ended up shooting all three guns. Once I saw the other girls enjoying themselves, I felt encouraged to join them and see whether this was fun. Self-defense is easy to understand, but I could never grasp why people took joy in guns. How people could hold a firearm and have fun was beyond me. Once I got the hang of gripping and shooting the gun, it started making sense. I found myself smiling and genuinely enjoying my time up there, holding the gun. I congratulated the other girls on their skills and laughed with them. Here we were, gathered together and joking around, all while shooting guns. This experience wholly contrasted with my previously negative views of people who enjoy guns. Having fun with firearms does not equate to taking pleasure in violence or hurting others. Indeed, guns can act as a social facilitator through which people come together to have some friendly competition.
On top of unexpectedly having fun, I was also surprised by how normal the gun felt in my hands. I mentioned before how I did not grow up with guns. One consequence of that was how they have always seemed so far away from my reality. In other words, guns have never felt real to me. Therefore, it is needless to say that the gun initially felt weird in my hands. Its shape, texture, and weight were an unfamiliar combination that took a couple of seconds to get used to. I still vividly remember the harsh vibration and the furious pop after my first shot. After a few more shots, I was surprised to see how quickly the activity became familiar. The loud bangs became less formidable and the bodily aftershocks less unwelcome. This sudden normalcy was significant for me because I have spent my formative years thinking of guns as these mythical objects venerated by hillbillies and sadists. My experience most certainly negated this prejudice and introduced me to the ordinary nature of firearms.
If I showed teenage Hanna the picture of me shooting the semi-automatic rifle at Veteran’s Range, she would have been dumbstruck. The countless school shootings and the lack of gun exposure made her hate these lethal weapons, so she would probably wonder what made her change her mind a couple of years later. I would tell her that I am not a recently-converted gun enthusiast. However, I would say that I understand them better.
Guns can be normal, fun, and provide a sense of safety. Unfortunately, the media does not show people cautiously using guns in a controlled setting, which is why some may come to find them appalling and dangerous. While I can see the good side of guns more clearly, some parts of gun culture still make me uncomfortable. For example, I still cannot fathom civilians possessing arsenals that contain borderline military-grade weapons. Nevertheless, I am grateful for this experience that forced me to get uncomfortable and face a reality I did not know existed.