Although the remnants of Hurricane Ida forced a last minute rescheduling, my Fall 2021 Sociology of Guns seminar students completed their mandatory field trip to the gun range on September 3rd.
This is the 7th time I have taught the course and the 7th successful field trip we have taken as a class. All the students left the range with the same number of holes in their bodies as they arrived with, plus some experience handling and shooting live firearms.
Although guns are always a Rorschach test of sorts and students’ preexisting understandings heavily influence the conclusions they draw about guns at the end of the course, having an experiential basis upon which to discuss firearms and shooting is foundational to our consideration of the role of guns in American society.
In the coming days, I will (as before) post some of the students’ field trip reflection essays on this blog. They have historically been among the most popular items I post, so stay tuned!
As I noted earlier, I was scheduled to teach the Sociology of Religion this semester (fall 2020), but when students found out I was not going to teach my Sociology of Guns seminar they expressed considerable disappointment. So, I switched seminars and just starting my 6th straight year teaching the Sociology of Guns.
Those who have seen my video on becoming a gun owner know that my wife Sandy played a crucial role getting me into guns. But the last time we shot a class together was in 2012. Over the past 6+ years since then, she has been accumulating nursing degrees while I have been wandering around gun culture.
In a lunchtime talk at the National Firearms Law Seminar recently, I recounted three of my main observations about guns and gun culture in America. The second of these observations is: “Shooting is fun, and challenging.” It is fun, in part, because it is challenging.
This is one of the things that got me into guns in the first place and is something I enjoy passing on to others. As I have become known more and more as “the gun guy” in my social and professional circles, more and more people have asked me to take them shooting.
Last summer, one of my sociology students asked me if I would take her to the range. Of course, I said. In January, she reminded me that I promised to take her to the range, and we eventually arranged to go last week.
This student’s background was familiar to me as I meet many women whose grandfathers, fathers, and brothers hunt but whose grandmothers, mothers, sisters, and themselves do not. So, although her father and brother hunted together, she had never fired a gun before this field trip.
Mother and daughter shooting at Veterans Range, Mocksville, NC. Photo by David Yamane
This student refers toward the end of her reflection to me making “a joke about purposefully avoiding the human paper targets.” Although I probably said this with a smile on my face, I did not mean it as a joke. In fact, the first time I took a class to the range in 2015, we (without thinking) put up humanoid targets. One of the students – pictured below — asked to shoot a non-humanoid target. We had an excellent discussion in class after about the ethical significance of target selection. Since then, as much as possible, I have tried always to use non-human/humanoid paper targets during our field trips.
Sociology of Guns student wearing Christian Peacemaker hat at Veterans Range, 2015.
The field trip has two components: A mandatory classroom introduction to firearms/safety and a voluntary opportunity to shoot guns on the range. In recent iterations of the course, I have required students write a short, 750 +/-250 word essay reflecting on the field trip.
In this essay, you will describe your experience participating in the introduction to firearms class and range visit. The essay is a subjective recollection of your experience at the range, so the content is largely up to you, but it must answer the following question: How did the experience fit with your prior understanding of guns in the US?
To answer this question you might benefit from thinking about the following related questions: What did you find surprising? What did you learn? What did you find appealing (or disturbing)? Although you can (and should) reference particular events, processes, or experiences, this essay should not be a mere “play-by-play” of what you did during the field trip. [Assignment borrowed from Brett Burkhardt of Oregon State University]
In the coming days, I will post some of these student reflection essays. They provide interesting insights into the experience and thoughts of young adults who for the most part are not invested in, or even familiar with, guns and gun culture. They are gun curious.
My Sociology of Guns seminar’s annual field trip to the gun range is such a highlight that I sometimes wonder if I should do it at the end of class rather than the beginning. The class really is all down hill after visiting the range.
This semester my 15 students and I once again made the short drive from Wake Forest University to ProShots Range in Rural Hall, North Carolina.