This is the first of several student gun range field trip reflection essays from my fall 2021 Sociology of Guns seminar. 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 Caleb Brinkley
To preface, I enjoyed the class range trip and thought it went well. My circumstances are different from other students in several ways, notably in experience and physical considerations. I have a relatively extensive background in the gun community with a focus on competition and training that extends beyond the level of the average American gun owner. Thus, what was unique about the range trip for me wasn’t the shooting per se, but the context in which it occurred in. The shooting itself was introductory level, as appropriate for the students since the majority had little experience with firearms.
Another day in America, another pile of bodies, and another set of cries for gun control. Predictably, the Atlanta and Boulder and Indianapolis mass public shootings were followed by calls to ban AR-style rifles. President Biden proposes to subject “ghost guns” to background checks and place pistol-stabilizing braces under the National Firearms Act as short-barreled rifles.
This marks a return to the old, pre-pandemic normal in America in which extremely rare cases of large-scale homicide bring efforts to regulate guns and gun parts in ways so general they are unlikely to have the desired effect of dramatically reducing gun violence.
As tragic as they are, overemphasis on these dramatic but rare events diverts our attention from the vast majority of homicides which involve fewer than four victims, victims who are shot with regular old handguns that are acquired in transactions not covered by criminal background checks.
Having studied American gun culture for a decade now, I find myself returning repeatedly to an important truth: Everyday gun violence in the United States is concentrated in places and among people that are most affected by economic and racial inequality. Efforts to reduce this violence should, therefore, be equally concentrated on addressing its causes in these same areas. Doing so shifts efforts at intervention away from guns per se, a move that allows us to circumvent federal gridlock on gun legislation and as well as legal challenges to gun regulation. We can carve a political path forward right now by decoupling violence reduction from gun control.
So began four years of the voluminous debate over the gun and its place in American life, fully documented in 4,000 pages of congressional hearings and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles. It was to be a tedious and repetitive dialogue of the deaf.
— On gun control legislation following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, from Lee Kennett and Jules LaVerne Anderson, The Gun in America (1975), p. 232, emphasis added
Motivated by those who would reduce gun culture in the United States to the National Rifle Association (NRA), I have tried as much as possible to think and write about gun culture without paying too much attention to the NRA. In fact, when I sent out a book proposal a while ago, one of the reviewers took me to task for not discussing the NRA enough.
I have a couple of reasons for downplaying the NRA in my work.