This is the sixth of several student gun range field trip reflection essays from my fall 2021 Sociology of Guns seminar (see reflection #1, reflection #2, reflection #3, 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 Kierra Law
Overall, I would say that my experience going to the gun range did not fit with my prior understanding of guns in the U.S.
Our field trip to the gun range was my first experience handling a gun. I appreciated this trip because it made me realize some things that I had not realized before. There were also parts of the experience that I enjoyed and parts that still made me feel uncomfortable being around guns.
Questions and controversies around police use of force are not new, but have been animated by a spate of high profile cases in recent years resulting in the death of black Americans, including Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, and of course, George Floyd.
Although there is plenty of evidence of racism in our criminal justice system (as Radley Balko exhaustively documents, h/t Khal), and these cases are for many prima facie evidence of the same, as a sociologist I still cling to Peter Berger’s contention that “the first wisdom of sociology is this – things are not what they seem.” Of course, they may be what they seem, but our job is not to assume but rather to dig deeper.
This module tries to answer the question, What does the best contemporary scholarship tell us about police use of force, and especially racial disparities in use of force?
In addition to our reading (helpfully suggested by top policing scholars Justin Nix, Michael Sierra-Arevalo, and Kyle McLean), I am pleased to again welcome 21 year veteran of law enforcement, notably undercover narcotics work, and leading self-defense trainer Craig Douglas who will bring his Experiential Learning Lab to class.
Modules 5, 6, and 7 of Sociology of Guns focus on three of the four parts of the Holy Quaternity of sociology: race, gender, and sexuality (we touch some on social class, too).
There is no shortage of writing about how gun owners are racist, but my interest in this module is in non-deviant racial minority gun owners. Unfortunately, comparatively little has been written about this topic by contemporary social scientists (historians and legal scholars, like Nicholas Johnson, have done better), so I have to get more creative in putting together this reading list.
I was recently querying Academic Twitter about peer-reviewed social scientific publications on non-deviant African American gun owners to assign in the module on race in my Sociology of Guns seminar (more on that module forthcoming). I was disheartened but not surprised that there are none (historians and legal scholars have done better). After all, only this year was a peer-reviewed sociological study of LGBT gun owners published.
Perhaps the times are changing. From 2:00-4:00pm Eastern Time on July 31, I will be joining Wake Forest Law Professor Gregory Parks and a panel of other academics and experts for a thoughtful and thought-provoking webinar on race and guns in the U.S.
The conversation will examine how race intersects with the history of gun ownership in America, the roots of the Second Amendment, and the modern politics of guns. Panelists will bring a historical, legal, psychological, and sociological lens to bear on the discussion, “Race and Guns in America: A Conversation About Black Gun Ownership.”
I have been very fortunate that my job has not been adversely affected in a major way by the COVID19 pandemic this year. Which is not to say that it has been completely unaffected. The already inadequate amount of funding I receive from Wake Forest to conduct my research is going away for the foreseeable future (much more on this in the coming months). And other responsibilities of my faculty job are squeezing out my research and writing time right now (hence so few posts here and on Gun Culture 2.0 lately, which is why I am cross-posting this to both blogs).
I have spent weeks this summer learning how to teach online, developing and teaching 2 sections of Introduction to Sociology online, and facilitating a Peer Learning Group on online education for my department colleagues.
Also, because my personal and family life has not been as disrupted by COVID19 as some of my professional peers, I have tried to say “yes” to every request to review manuscripts, books, and promotion dossiers I have received since March.
Among the assignments I have accepted is to review the book, Land, God and Guns: Settler Colonialism and Masculinity in the American Heartland (Zed, 2020), for Choice Reviews. (Choice Reviews is run by the Association of College and Research Libraries and is used by academic librarians to select materials for their collections.)
Thus one can see in the Negro church to-day, reproduced in microcosm, all the great world from which the Negro is cut off by color-prejudice and social condition. In the great city churches the same tendency is noticeable and in many respects emphasized. A great church like the Bethel of Philadelphia has over eleven hundred members, an edifice seating fifteen hundred persons and valued at one hundred thousand dollars, an annual budget of five thousand dollars, and a government consisting of a pastor with several assisting local preachers, an executive and legislative board, financial boards and tax collectors; general church meetings for making laws; sub-divided groups led by class leaders, a company of militia, and twenty-four auxiliary societies. The activity of a church like this is immense and far-reaching, and the bishops who preside over these organizations throughout the land are among the most powerful Negro rulers in the world.
A “company of militia”? Well, that got my attention.
Reading an excerpt from The Souls of Black Folk by the great African-American intellectual W.E.B. DuBois for my sociological theory class last week, I came across the interesting description of Philadelphia’s Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church copied above, including the reference to “a company of militia.”
For reasons I discuss below, I was not altogether surprised that Mother Bethel had a “militia” — because racism and the need to defend the church and its community — only that DuBois mentioned it in passing, without remarking on it further.
Statue of founder Richard Allen outside Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia, PA. Photo by Sandra Stroud Yamane
I concluded a recent post saying if anyone ever asks you how many gun owners there are in America, you can tell them AT LEAST: 40% of households in America have guns in them and 30% of individuals in America personally own a gun.
Saying AT LEAST is crucial here, because these figures underestimate the actual rate of gun ownership in the United States. How badly they underestimate gun ownership we do not and cannot know precisely. My educated guess is that the underestimate is at least 10%, that 25% would not be an unreasonable amount, and more than 25% is likely.
So, if anyone ever asks you how many gun owners there are in America, you can tell them, No one really knows but PROBABLY:
44 to 50% of households (or more) in American have guns in them
33 to 37% of individuals (or more) in America own a gun