This is the second of several end of class student reflection papers I will be posting. You can also read the first reflection with background information on the actual assignment.
This author’s initial reflection is available as well.
By Cristina Stewart
This class has led to a fascinating semester—there have been so many varying opinions and backgrounds of my peers. From our lively class discussion, research for my final paper, in conjunction with student presentations of my idea of the role that guns should play in society, is once again conflicted. As previously stated, I am a strong proponent of the Second Amendment and the importance that it has in our society. I accept that I can be considered a “gun nut” by more liberal individuals because I believe that having the right to own a firearm is an aspect that protects us from the possibility of tyranny. I introduced by concerns of the demonization of the mentally ill with the enactment of extended mental health background checks in my first “chapter” and explored this idea even further later in the semester through my 2c paper. I found that lowering the threshold of what disqualifies an individual for NICS check would deter others from seeking mental health care, as well as violating the privacy and civil rights of these individuals. My research into what mental health advocates contributed to the topic of the mentally ill and gun control also furthered my concerns that I addressed in paper 1. They feel that the topic of gun control and the mentally ill should be separated. However, this is difficult because the topic of the mentally ill is only newsworthy when it is attached to a tragedy. But the biggest take away from my research is why it is easier to obtain a firearm than it is to obtain proper mental health care in America. Stricter gun control laws are not necessary for the public safety, but a greater emphasis on the funding and importance of proper mental health is a better deterrent to these tragedies.
I began this class feeling strongly that regulation of guns is difficult because I believe that such regulations can infringe on an individual’s constitutional rights. However, what we have learned in this class in reference to gun violence and suicide, a strong argument can be made that regulation could potentially save many lives. The section of the class entitled, “gun control as a public health concern” was most interesting and caused me to reevaluate my views. To look at gun control from a medical perspective seems to be the most logical and objective way of addressing gun control policies. When referencing seat belt and other car safety features, as well as cigarette taxes and warnings as comparable examples to gun control the discussion was well developed. It made perfect sense that medical professionals see that guns, and lack of gun control laws, increase fatalities that are found in assault, homicide and suicide. Suicide fatalities and homicides would be much lower if guns were extremely difficult to obtain, or if they were apprehended by the government in Australia. However, despite this compelling argument, I think the implementation of strict gun control policies in American society is fruitless. This is due to the pervasiveness of gun culture in our nation’s history, regardless of it being real or imagined. The fundamental difference between seat belts and cigarettes is that there is not an amendment about the right to possess them in our Constitution. It is this vital point that renders the public health concern argument useless. However, if this was removed from our history I think that the public health outlook would be the most compelling argument for any type of gun control legislation. In addition to this argument, having the speaker for Moms Demand Action was definitely a turning point in my views. I was prepared to not be in agreement with anything that the speaker would have to say, when in fact I was very wrong. Her view point on open carry permits and the idea of gun sense rather gun control made logical sense. I agree with this idea of obtaining a permit, but still lean more towards shall issue permitting than may issue permitting.
The continued discussion of alternatives to gun rights and gun control in the class always get traced back to the idea of guns being seen as a right and not a privilege. This is what distinguishes American gun culture from other countries and why we cannot seem to come to some sort of resolution. However, despite my research, the article by Kahan and Braman intrigued me the most out of most of the articles and discussions that we had in class. This was the piece I was assigned for my presentation, which involved a more in depth reading and understanding. The article’s main argument caused me to stop and think intensely about my first paper and the role that I thought guns should play in society. In reading the definitions of each cultural risk orientation I found that I would probably be more likely to identify with the individualistic cultural risk orientation. This orientation is more likely to be against all types of gun control, because it focuses on autonomy. The article went further to discuss how people’s cultural risk identity is the best predictor of their opinions on gun control. With a topic such as gun control, which has conflicting research and no clear cut answers, people will look to authority figures to help them understand a certain position. So, no matter what statistical or empirical research is directed at an individual, they will choose to believe in what aligns with their cultural risk identity. As I reflected on this, it helped me understand how when we read or discussed articles about gun control, I would have a hard time thinking about it objectively. This also helped me see why my opinions about guns have not changed that much since my first paper, despite my continued effort to keep an open mind.
Going forward, I need to look at literature from both viewpoints to make informed decisions about the place of guns in the country and in my own life. Knowledge of who is performing statistical analysis and studies is significant information to know. In addition, knowing the general trends of what a model is trying to represent is vital as well. For example, when we viewed the graph that illustrated the downward trend in violence and suicide in Australia after they confiscated most firearms in the country—it was discussed that this trend was going down prior to this confiscation. Most importantly, one should be wary of any type of information that is presented to the public that is either for or against gun control. The topic of gun control is such a highly contested and politicized topic that trying to be neutral when in taking any information on the issue is key. This can be difficult to do considering, as Kahan and Braman discussed, it is easy to pick and choose things that align with our own personal beliefs. Keeping an open mind about potential changes in gun control is something that I need to do. If there is a way that some gun control legislation can ensure a safer environment for everyone and still maintain our Constitutional rights than I would not be in opposition to such legislation.