I Came Into This Experience with a Very Negative View of Guns (Fall 2021 Student Range Visit Reflection #6)

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.

The author shooting at Veterans Range, September 2021. Photo by David Yamane
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Place-Based Interventions as Root Cause Violence Mitigation

I recently Tweeted for help finding some articles for my Sociology of Guns seminar. Among those who Tweeted back was Ted Alcorn, the founding Director of Research at Everytown for Gun Safety who currently teaches a course called “Gun Violence in the United States: Evidence and Action” at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. He provided a link to his fall 2020 syllabus, which I mined for sources.

Although it is not my area of scholarly expertise, like many I am concerned about high levels of violence in the United States, especially the most lethal and injurious forms. As I have previously written on this blog, I find myself returning repeatedly to an important truth: Everyday criminal violence in the United States is concentrated in places and among people that are most affected by economic and racial inequality. As the Rocket Armory t-shirt says, “Guns don’t kill people, systemic inequality does.”

One module in Alcorn’s class takes this issue of PLACE far more seriously than I had thought to myself.

Figure from “Citywide cluster randomized trial to restore blighted vacant land and its effects on violence, crime, and fear” in PNAS (2018)
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Guns Don’t Kill People, Systemic Inequality Does

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.

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Thoughts on Bridging the American Gun Divide

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.

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Virtue and Guns: A Response

Earlier this year, philosopher Michael Austin posted a short reflection on “Virtue and Guns” on his Psychology Today blog “Ethics for Everyone.” If the title didn’t already grab my attention, the subtitle would have: “How ‘Gun Culture 2.0’ can harm character.”

Even if some people hadn’t mistaken Austin’s argument about GC2.0 for mine, I still would have wanted to respond. He told me he would post a response if I wrote one, and he is true to his word.

Read “A Counterargument to ‘Virtue and Guns'” and let us both know what you think in the comments here.

As noted in my acknowledgement, my essay benefited from input from John Correia, John Johnston, Randy Miyan, Mike Pannone, and Patrick Toner.