Last semester I taught a seminar on the Sociology of Guns for the first time. I had hoped to “live blog” the class on a weekly basis, but alas I was too busy teaching the class to write about it at the same time. I did manage to blog about our class trip to the gun range and our guest speaker from a local gun store, both of which were highlights of the class for students.
The class was centered on better understanding the multifaceted role guns play in the U.S., including the history and legalities, and the everyday uses and abuses. I wanted students to approach the issue of guns in society in a scholarly – that is, objective and nuanced – manner from a sociological perspective.
In addition to selected journal articles on a variety of topics, core texts for the class were Adam Winkler’s Gunfight, Jennifer Carlson’s Citizen-Protectors, and Philip Cook and Kristin Goss’s The Gun Debate: What Everyone Needs to Know.
The differences I might have with Cook and Goss on specific points notwithstanding, I agree whole-heartedly with their fundamental approach to the gun issue. They begin by raising the question, “How can we reduce the problems of misuse [of firearms] while preserving the benefit of normal prudent use?” The NRA, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, hunter safety education programs, the gun training industry, gun media, and many average gun owners want to figure out good answer to this question, as well.
Cook and Goss conclude their book by returning to this point, emphasizing the desire to “seek the right balance between risks and benefits” of guns in society. “Finding that balanced approach for firearms has not been easy,” they continue, “but it is our hope that there’s still a possibility of reasoned discussion based on the best available information. That aspiration was the motivation for this book” (p. 220).
I can say the same for my class: I aspired to promote reasoned discussion about the positive and negative role of guns in society based on the best available information. And I can honestly say that over the course of the semester, my students — from the Christian pacifist to the card carrying members of the NRA — did an amazing job of engaging in reasoned and respectful discussion.
The experience made me want to spend more time in the classroom and less time in the degraded public space of social media. I’m looking forward to teaching this seminar again next fall!