Student Reflection 7 on the role of Guns in Society — A View from the Mountaineer State

A seventh student reflection on the normative question of the role guns should play in (American) society, from my Sociology of Guns seminar, follows. The first six reflections can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.


By Lee Mendenhall

In November of 2010, there was to be a special election held in West Virginia for the position of state senator. The reason this election was necessary was that the longest serving senator in United States history, Robert Byrd, had passed away in June of that year—ending his 51 year legacy in the Senate. So who would be the candidate to replace Byrd? This was a man whose name was plastered on practically every inch of the state’s infrastructure due to his uncanny ability to funnel money into West Virginia in seemingly unrelated bills. This was a man who was one of the top leaders in the West Virginia chapter of the KKK. In order to win in this state, you merely had to support the policies that the state’s people held near and dear. The importance placed on the second amendment and guns in this state was undoubtedly going to be used by candidates on either side of the political spectrum; guns are life here. That is why when Democrat Joe Manchin, who was governor at the time, began his political campaign for senate, he used this gun culture to his advantage. In one of his most famous political ads, Manchin loads and fires a bolt-action hunting rifle at the cap and trade bill. As this action is taking place, Manchin’s voice is dubbing over the video proclaiming the support he received from the NRA as a politician who supports the second amendments right for individual’s to bear arms. This kind of politics is what it took for him to win the election, and in my opinion, it perfectly demonstrates the culture surrounding guns in the state that has molded me for 22 years of my life.

In my mind, the role that guns should play in society is seemingly clear. Maybe it’s because I’m not asking detailed or critical enough questions, but the overarching “roles” appear fairly defined in my mind. Guns will always serve in my life as tools for hunting, recreational target shooting, and for the purposes of self-defense.

Let’s first look at hunting. Sometimes the argument is made that hunting is no longer needed for food appropriation; therefore, it is an over glorified hobby that is a poor excuse to own high caliber hunting rifles and AR-15s (the most commonly used weapon for coyote hunting and other small game). Personally I have been hunting several times in my life, and I cannot recommend it enough. There is nothing over glorified about it—it actually is an amazing hobby. We hold this sport with such high regard in West Virginia that several school districts have given students and faculty the day off for the first day of deer season as a sort of make-shift holiday. Notwithstanding, it goes without saying that many West Virginia residents are gun-owners—we have the most gun owners per capita in the United States I believe. So saying we shouldn’t have these designated hunting tools doesn’t quite fly in my opinion.

Next let’s discuss target shooting. Again, this is another hobby aspect of guns that is often seen as not a worthy cause for certain gun ownership. Maybe it’s just my upbringing talking, but there is nothing I look forward to more after a tough day than letting some gun powder fly at the range. And just as a food connoisseur loves to try different foods, a gun-lover loves to try different guns. Yes, these guns can actually be quite dangerous, but by growing up in a state with strong gun culture has also led me to have gun safety burned into my skull—proper handling of fire arms is well known at an early age in this state. So once again, wanting to cut back on the current permissions of what we can shoot at the range would certainly be upsetting to me.

Lastly, let’s look at self-defense. My father is current holder of a concealed carry permit. In order to obtain this permit, he was required to go through an instruction course taught by a state trooper as well as go through background checks and other paperwork. At first, he wasn’t too happy he had to jump through this many hoops in order to carry his pistol in concealment; however, after taking the class, he could not rave about it enough. Even as a born and raised gun-guy, he felt like he took some very valuable information with him out of the course. Although instructors are different in different areas that offer these courses, they are essentially standardized and give the same information to anyone intending to get and use a concealed carry permit. This gave me a lot of faith in the system. Not only is there a federal check to make sure these permits do not get into the wrong hands, there is a solid system of instruction to promote a healthy use of the permits in the appropriate hands. I will certainly be getting my concealed carry once I purchase a handgun of my own. Having a gun for self-defense serves to give one of most secure feelings one could have. It’s not the fact that you think you will need to use a gun for this purpose at some point, it is the security in knowing you have the gun/skills necessary if you ever actually do need it. Although this is where the debate gets most hazy, it’s also where I feel I put my foot down the most. I would not be willing, at this time, to so readily have the ability to secure myself with a firearm be removed.

Yes, there are many more subdivisions in each of these topics, and yes, there are lots of specific situations that were not addressed in this essay. But when looking at the role that I think guns should play in society, I try to keep it simple minded. Will I be able to hunt with reasonably appropriate tools? Will I get to shoot targets with a diverse selection of fire arms? Will I be able to adequately arm myself for the purposes of self-defense? As long as the policies allow my answers to those questions to remain yes, then the West Virginian in me has been satisfied.


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