Thoughts on NYT Opinion “Firearms Classes Taught Me, and America, a Very Dangerous Lesson”

On my “Light Over Heat” YouTube channel this week, I discuss sociologist Harel Shapira’s opinion essay, “Firearms Taught Me, and America, a Very Dangerous Lesson,” published in the New York Times on 16 May 2023 (gift link here should take you behind the NYT paywall if you haven’t seen the opinion yet).

The title, of course, is provocative and the essay certainly provoked considerable attention on my social media feeds. My gun-skeptic friends had all of their biases about Gun Culture 2.0 confirmed, while my gun-sympathetic friends didn’t recognize themselves in Shapira’s characterization.

As usual, I tried to translate between these two different perspectives, but 140 characters doesn’t allow for much nuance.

So, in addition to 11 minutes of more free-flowing “Light Over Heat” video comments, this blog post presents the points I would like to make more systematically.

TL:DR I have learned very different lessons from firearms classes than Harel Shapira.

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Different Core Writing Assignments in My Sociology of Guns Course

As I prepare to teach my Sociology of Guns course for the 9th consecutive academic year (dating back to 2015), I am revisiting my syllabus as I do annually. The biggest variables in the course are the assigned readings and the core writing assignment. Here I provide details of the different writing projects I have assigned in previous semesters.

Note that one constant has been and will continue to be our field trip to the gun range and the reflection students write on that experience. This is a highlight of the course so not going to mess with it.

This fall I am going to borrow an “Op-Ed Assignment” my Wake Forest sociology colleague Hana Brown uses in her political sociology class. The assignment will be to write a research-based opinion essay akin to those published in newspaper editorial pages.

I think this assignment will meet my course objective of having students reflect on their personal views of guns in dialogue with scholarly research on guns. This objective underlies each of the earlier writing assignments you will find below.

Sociology of Guns student presenting her paper to classmates at Wake Forest University. Photo by David Yamane
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The Road Ahead – 2023

I’ve had some personal and professional setbacks so far in 2023, but I’ve also had some amazing opportunities to bring light to culture war over guns in America. I’m grateful for that. In this post, I want to share some of what I have planned for the rest of 2023 for anyone interested.

Light Over Heat YouTube videos: Having taken a longer than expected hiatus then returned and consulted with my guide John Correia of Active Self Protection, I am going to keep posting these short videos on various topics concerning guns and gun culture. They may not be as regular as I hope or as polished, but I believe there is an audience for them and they certainly support my educational goals.

Sociology of Guns syllabus: First up is putting together the syllabus for Sociology of Guns V9.0 that I will be teaching at Wake Forest University this fall. I’m doing this a bit earlier than normal because I’ve been asked by The Conversation to contribute a piece about my course to their “Uncommon Courses” series. I’m really excited to share what I’ve learned about having productive conversations about guns through teaching this course.

University of Wyoming College of Law Firearms Research Center workshop: Next I will be headed to Fort Worth, Texas for a workshop sponsored by the new Firearms Research Center at the University of Wyoming College of Law (in conjunction with the Duke University Center for Firearms Law). I will be presenting the chapter of my book-in-progress on Gun Culture 2.0 that addresses the evolution and contours of concealed carry laws in the US.

I’m excited to learn more about firearms law from actual legal scholars and historians, especially in the dynamic new post-Bruen world we’re living in.

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Shooting is Fun – A Reminder from the Field

“It’s fun. It’s a sport. And it’s a skill.”

Participant in Open Source Shooting Sports range event

It’s no secret that early in my research on American gun culture, I took Michael Bane’s idea of a Gun Culture 2.0 and brought it into scholarly discussions of guns. This has been a mixed blessing.

The concept of Gun Culture 2.0 is mostly positive because it allows me to convey a broad pattern of evolution in the center of gravity of American gun culture.

Diagram by David Yamane, from

But, as the literary critic Kenneth Burke famously said, “Every way of seeing is a way of not seeing. Every insight has its own special blindness.”

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Collected Posts on Sociology of Guns Seminar (Updated 10/22)

In Fall 2022, I am teaching my “Sociology of Guns” seminar at Wake Forest University for the eighth consecutive academic year, dating back to the fall of 2015. A PDF of the course syllabus for Version 8.0 is available HERE.

Over the years, I have posted a number of times on this blog and my older Gun Culture 2.0 blog about this seminar. This entry collects those earlier posts — from both blogs — including many written by students in the class.

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Why I Almost Abandoned My Effort to Bring Light and Turn Down the Heat on Guns (Light Over Heat #49)

What was supposed to be a brief hiatus from my “Light Over Heat” YouTube channel almost became permanent. This video explains why.

A lot of it had to do with my feeling like I was talking into a void, and a lot of that feeling had to do with negative responses I have been receiving to the proposal for my book, Gun Curious: A Journey into America’s Evolving Culture of Firearms.

In this video I read from some of those responses so you can get an idea of the uphill battle I am fighting to publish a book that tries to turn down the heat on the great gun debates in America and occupy the vast but (I now realize) lonely middle ground.

If I have given you some value and you would like to support my work, please surf over to my “Light Over Heat” YouTube channel and SUBSCRIBE to follow. You can also RING THE BELL to receive notifications, and SHARE so others can learn about this work.