This is the sixth 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). 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 Liana Hutton
Approximately half a year ago, when I signed the form to participate in this course, it discussed how we were required to go on a field trip to the gun range. My first thoughts were how interesting this would be because of my background. I grew up in Hilton Head, South Carolina – a place that loves guns – but in a family that grew up in New York and does not like guns. Growing up in a very socially liberal household in a socially conservative area gave me an interesting perspective. Not only did I develop my own beliefs about guns in general, but I also developed a sense of what others believed, and why. In high school, I was part of the Young Democrats club, which came together when mass shootings happened to hold an entire school activity to remember those lost in the Parkland shooting specifically. I remember that day, the members of the Young Republicans club passed around stickers to students that said, “I support the second amendment.”
To sum it up, I lived in a place that loved the second amendment, where lots of teenagers went hunting with their parents growing up, and lived in households that had multiple kinds of guns. I grew up in a family that believed, and still does, that we need gun control, and that some types of guns should be banned.
Guns and gun culture in the United States are strongly associated with political and cultural conservatism. So much so that what requires explanation is not the link between guns and conservatism but guns and liberalism.
One-fifth of gun owners self-identify as politically liberal, and another 40% as politically moderate. So, in fact only a minority of gun owners (40%) self-identify as politically conservative.
In this module we examine the work of one of the two major liberal gun organizations in the United States: the Liberal Gun Owners (LGO). (The other is the Liberal Gun Club (LGC).) We will welcome to class as a guest speaker, for the second time, Randy Miyan, the executive director of the LGO.
He will talk about his own evolution as a gun owner, as well as the LGO’s unique perspective on guns in human history and culture.
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
In these trying times, can we at least all agree that guns are politically polarizing in the United States? Not inherently, of course, but they get drawn up into our divisive political system and culture in a profound way.
I’m pleased to share political scientist Mark R. Joslyn’s reflection on how emotions drive reasoning and division on the gun issue, for better or worse.
These reflections are part of a broader project Joslyn has been working on concerning the politics of gun ownership (see more about the author at the end). Based on this essay, I am really looking forward to getting my hands on his just released book, The Gun Gap: The Influence of Gun Ownership on Political Behavior and Attitudes. See this flyer with more information on the book and order online from Oxford University Press with promo code ASFLYQ6 to save 30%.
I don’t really want to keep talking about the National Rifle Association (NRA). I really don’t. As noted previously, when I sent a proposal for a book on Gun Culture 2.0 to Oxford University Press a couple of years ago, one of the peer reviewers took me to task for not talking about the NRA enough. In fact, as a correction to those who want to reduce guns and gun culture to the NRA, I am intentionally trying to write my book without putting the NRA in the center of the action.
The finale episode of Season 3 of the American Diagnosis podcast with Dr. Celine Gounder has recently been released. The season focused on gun violence and the concluding episode considers the question: “Where Do We Go From Here?”
Over a year ago, I spoke about Gun Culture 2.0 on Episode 4 of Season 3 of the podcast, and 15 month later I am pleased to be given the last word of sorts for the season.
My comments remain some of my most coherent thoughts on the American gun divide, though I don’t feel as sanguine today as I did in April of 2018 when I was interviewed. Give the episode a listen (or see an excerpt of the transcript below) and judge for yourself. Let me know what you think.