Following is another student reflection on the question of the role guns should play in (American) society, from my Sociology of Guns seminar. The first reflection can be found here. As noted, it seems the entire range of opinions in American society can be found among my 15 students.
By Katie Huggins
Given my background, I suppose it is surprising that my immediate thoughts concerning guns are negative. One would think that someone growing up in a military household would be compliant with gun culture, but as my primary exposure to firearms involved driving on base through ID inspection by heavily armed security forces, the idea of guns as an awareness and preparedness for some sort of violent threat is never far from my thoughts. Off base, I grew up in towns where violent crime is a prevalent reality, but I managed to remain removed from it, insulated within the safety of the upper-middle class suburbs in which my family lived. I have never handled a gun, nor have I been in a dangerous situation involving a gun. Even so, I tend to forget about potentially legitimate uses of firearms. The appeal of gun sport eludes me in part because Bambi was a traumatic film experience and in part because I was never around large hunting communities until I moved to Georgia. As this was the first time I had not been surrounded by the military community, I felt out of place amongst the country kids, who quickly settled in my mind as rednecks who shot things and got their pickup trucks as muddy as possible for fun. I spent most of my high school years avoiding this swath of students, thus taking pride in distancing myself from their backwards mentality and backwoods pleasures at all costs. In terms of mere aesthetics, I was anti-gun.
My anti-gun tendencies carry to gun policy. I have become more keenly aware of gun violence during my college years; the Newtown shooting occurred during finals week in the fall semester of my freshman year. On some level, I link that shooting with an increased awareness of the difficulty of the “real world,” marking a move from my childhood naiveté in which I did not have to worry about such violence. As a Criminology student, I must foster this heightened awareness for academic purposes, and as a result of my studies, I have a hard time accepting the gun rights defense that “guns don’t kill people; people do.” I understand the sentiment that individuals with the intention to kill another person will carry it out by any means available to them, but as I learned in Dr. Bechtel’s Criminal Homicide course, guns facilitate the perpetrator in succeeding as the use of a firearm, instead of some other weapon, almost certainly guarantee lethality. As mainstream news media continues to sensationalize mass shootings, I am reminded of the trends I have studied: that the US has the highest homicide rate of any industrialized nation, and that many of those homicides are carried out with a gun, which, as Dr. Bechtel observed, aids the perpetrator in causing more damage and taking more lives. Even though crime rates and homicide rates are declining, the frequent exposure to particularly horrible acts of gun violence are hard to ignore. I was abroad in the spring, and Europe’s stricter gun control laws meant that the worst thing that could happen to me was pickpocketing. It was hard coming home to multiple high-profile mass shootings in a relatively short span of time. After the shooting in Virginia a few weeks ago, my mom sent me an article that identified mass shootings as an overwhelmingly American phenomenon, a tragic reality that is in keeping with the disproportionately higher rates of homicide than other national peers. It is hard for me to observe these trends and accept the role guns currently hold in American culture.
In my vision of a perfect universe, guns would be banned outright. My mom and I had several conversations about gun control over the summer, spurred on by the shooting in Chattanooga. We both expressed the hope that, if no guns were legal, law enforcement would be able to prevent more violent crimes by removing all firearms. In our eyes, the sanctity of human life is more a more precious right to protect than the right to bear arms. We also talked about how guns were controlled in Germany when we lived there. Our landlord was the local forest meister and an avid hunter, but he was required to store his firearms in a controlled facility that functioned much like a country club. I would not be opposed to allowing guns used for sport to be managed in that way. However, we hit a snare when thinking about self-defense. My mom grew up in New Mexico, so she is aware of the centrality of the ranching culture in that region and the ranchers’ need to have a rifle to protect the livestock from coyotes and other predators. We did not address the desire to own a gun for protection from the violence of other people; it was not an argument that occurred to either of us. Part of my family’s privilege is that we live in a neighborhood where we can count on law enforcement for our protection, so the need for a gun born from that sense of fear is difficult for us to fathom. Furthermore, based on what we have studied in these first few weeks of class, it is not a problem that would sort itself out with complete disarmament, as the example of the absolute failure of Prohibition indicates. If the ban of alcohol created a rise gun violence through the development of organized crime, how much worse would this trend be escalated by the ban of guns themselves? Even so, guns play too central of a role in the American identity; we cannot ignore history altogether by abolishing the Second Amendment. By more realistic standards, I would support stricter regulations for background checks and other such proposed measures of gun control, but I am not sure the effect such measures would have on illegal gun use – if it would help at all. This reality leaves me at an impasse as to any concrete ideas as to how the balance between gun control and gun rights should be carried out. I just know that I have a problem with the status quo as it stands.