A fifth student reflection on the normative question of the role guns should play in (American) society, from my Sociology of Guns seminar, follows. The first four reflections can be found here, here, here, and here.
By Imogen Jenkins
Guns have always been incredibly interesting to me, because they embody the deadly effects of human action as well as the respect of a king. Guns impart a grave power that must be respected. As a conduit of all things American to my very Australian family, I see a lot of ignorance on their part, which only experience with guns could truly elevate. Often, family debates on gun control have become a battle of family vs. Imo, family in favor of absolute government control and the disarming of a population. My retort, usually unheard, goes along the lines of, “Easy for you to say, Australia had few guns and fewer registered ones.” The issue of gun control in America is fraught with many issues. One which many may forget is the interpretation of state constitution and laws. Not only do gun laws vary widely by state, but also the people within states are prone to enforce their own interpretation and dominant discourse, regardless of federal rulings. For gun control, this behavior poses particular consequences, as many states in the US (if not all) have some culturally informed idea of guns and their utility, as well as their lethality. One stark difference between Australians and Americans is that when Australians reminisce about the good old days of the founding of the country, the pleasant picture is never interrupted by homeland invasions of imperial, or suppressive forces, nor does the recollection cover as much time as the American memory. As a result, Australian didn’t have this image in their history.
Many blue blooded Australians were the offspring of humble British people (and Irish), who had neither the means nor residences to enjoy gun ownership and freedom. In essence, Australian history was reasonably gun free. I believe guns as a passion, curiosity, collection, or security measure, are simply so because of the cultural frame in which they are placed. In Australia that chapter is short, but in America it is a longstanding theme, incapable of being captured perfectly or completely.
Henry Winkler’s Gunfight is a book I think a lot of ‘gun grabbers’ and ‘gun nuts’ would benefit from reading, if not the entire nation. Winkler demonstrates how inextricable guns have become in America’s understanding of it’s history and its image. When I say “America,” the rest of the world sees guns. This pill isn’t too hard to swallow for most Americans, but most people don’t understand that gun control has always existed in history as well, and more broadly, gun control is not necessarily analogous to disarmament. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure there is a solution to the gun debate, which will not in moments be overturned, disregarded, or plain ineffective. Let’s say we just disarm Americans of all their registered weapons. First of all, I doubt those guns make up the majority of the guns in the US. Secondly, imagine Prohibition era America but with more guns, and guns as the concealable commodity. Madness! Simply put, this approach is not a viable solution.
When I visited the gun range with you and the class, I was in shock and awe, but I promised myself I would give it a shot (get it?). I was very impressed by the seriousness with which those men addressed guns as a hobby and means of self protection. I believe every gun owner should be well informed. One thing that particularly impressed me was when one of the instructors said, “When I see someone acting irresponsibly on this range, I will make them leave.” It may seem a small thing, but that small failsafe of this man, who was an expert in guns, most likely decreased violence in some way. That’s what I call troubleshooting! (Get it?)
The fact is, America is a massive country in landmass and population. Mass shooting tragedies, which make up a huge percentage of airtime on major networks, in reality, make up a very small number of actual instances of gun violence. Although I believe guns cause a severe amount of damage in the USA, which can’t be overshadowed by their positive usage and it’s ability to protect otherwise ignored peoples. I don’t think the amount of injuries due to negligence or poor security are justifiable. With that all said, the first thing I believe in is freedom, and that the violence that is rampant in the USA is result of a far more malignant force that out reaches the right to bear arms. I believe the media divides the issue absurdly, with caricature figures on both sides of the argument: Think straight, southern, racist gun shooter, and liberal hippie gun grabber. In addition, I think a lot of people don’t understand the deceptive forces we witness every day in modern media. Not to mention, our habit of consuming media catered to our taste simply reaffirms our views. I believe in truth and transparency to the people. People should know the laws in regard to guns and these laws must be opaque. Too often is the prosecution of gun possession linked with lower class crimes.
What I truly stand behind is education. All my life I have found solace in scholarly thought, discussion, and readings. Like most humans on this earth I was not born under most auspicious circumstances; however, I have received an education that is making me a responsible citizen. I have read countless times that educated people most often hold the least prejudices. Violent crime and burglary are largely comprised of lower class victims and lower class targets, yet we seem to ignore this common violence and instead focus on sparse events. I believe the fact that gun violence being perpetrated largely by men points to a huge problem. Masculinity beliefs and standards are grounded in violence. Especially in men in more oppressive financial and social situations (eg. men of colour, felons etc.), there is a need to reclaim masculinity through violent means, since the ‘breadwinner – honest work’ option is hardly possible in the urban US.
My idea is simple. I aspire to greater education and better mental health. This includes dismantling the gendered stereotypes in America. Sexual violence is a hideous crime that many women use guns to defend themselves. What if we could strike that problem at it’s core? We could curtail the culture of violence by demonstrating respect for women. I believe the same about homophobes and racist individuals. What a better way to indoctrinate the respect for African Americans than to read the works of W.E.B Du Bois, Nella Larsen, or Langston Hughes, and to grow to appreciate the artistic complexity of their struggle and their interpretations. I would hope in that society gun control would be courtesy, and we could live freely and continue to tackle the large social issues that masquerade the gun debate, like racism, sexism, homophobia, deviance, and the growing disparity of classes in the US. I suppose you could call me a libertarian, but I believe I’m a romantic libertarian.