This is the third 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) and the second reflection.
This author’s initial reflection is available as well.
By Michael Peretz
When I decided to take this seminar on the Sociology of Guns I did not expect my preconceived notions on guns to be as challenged as much as they were over the course of the semester. The significant ideological diversity of those in this seminar made it possible to hear a variety of viewpoints on guns, some of which I had never heard before, in an open, respectful setting. For that I am especially grateful because opportunities to debate contentious issues in such a way do not occur very often in today’s partisan political environment. Even though I came across such interesting perspectives on what role guns should play in American society, I still firmly believe that the fundamental right to keep in bear arms should not be infringed upon in a significant way by the United States government. As I wrote in Chapter One of this “mini-book,” my positive view of guns undoubtedly stems from my unwavering, strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution, and the subsequent Supreme Court Decision in D.C. v. Heller (2008) that supports my argument’s premise, that the right to keep in bear arms is in fact an individual right in our democracy that should be protected.
I understand this stance could very well be characterized as “extreme” by some, fitting the “gun-nut” narrative described by Philip Cook and Kristin Goss in The Gun Debate (2014), yet my motivation behind taking this course and writing my research paper on the effectiveness of federal background check legislation was to actually determine whether or not there is a way to effectively regulate gun sales in the United States to ensure the safety of Americans while still maintain our prominent gun culture. Thus, even though my initial view on the role of guns in our society was centered on a conservative, individualistic ideology, it now also takes on a sociological perspective in the sense that I now better understand the effects of gun ownership on the broader population.
Upon researching various scholarly literature for my largest project of this semester (Chapter Two), I believed I was going to find data that supported many gun control advocate’s claims that our society needs more background check measures in order to ensure the safety of society at-large. This political stance essentially insinuates that current background check measures show signs of progress but do not go far enough; however, I was surprised to find that there is no verifiable link between the Brady Act of 1993 and a decrease in gun related homicides in the United States. In fact, the Brady Act has made very little impact on gun deaths, something President Clinton predicted it would do before signing it into law. This phenomenon led me to question the viability of background check legislation all together. However, after internalizing this data for several weeks and taking into account the potential ramifications for all American society by repealing this ineffective law, I ultimately concluded that we as a society are probably better off having some sort of background check system in place rather than repeal it. Although I still am grappling with this conclusion internally, as I do not normally advocate to keep pieces of legislation that do not achieve their stated objective(s), I contend in Chapter Two that the current federal background check system should not be repealed because it has prevented many citizens who are barred from purchasing guns, such as violent criminals, from doing so, and has shown to limit the number of suicides of those over the age of 55.
Yet, what this research taught me is that any and all background check legislation, even though it is the most politically viable form of gun control, cannot help us limit incidents of gun violence until our elected officials can find a way to improve our NICS database (where almost all background check inquiries are processed). Based upon the literature I presented on NICS in my second paper, and what other students have brought up over the course of the semester when aiming to discuss the root causes of gun violence, I am quite perplexed at the lack of data uploaded to the system every year. I do not believe we can responsibly enact more pieces of legislation that rely upon background checks to halt crime unless the database we use to inquire about gun purchasers holds records from all fifty states and has access to advanced information regarding those who may potentially be a threat to the public (i.e. those on the no-fly list, those on the suspected terror watch list, those who have been deemed mentally ill by a judge, etc.). Thus, in order to better ensure the safety of our society, I now believe we desperately need interagency collaboration at the state and federal levels of our government and elected representatives willing to identify the problems with our current systems before advocating for new forms of legislation that include mandatory background checks as a provision.
Therefore, although my current view on the role guns should play in our society is based on the same principles laid out in my first paper from the beginning of the semester (and are relatively unchanged), I now consider myself more informed because I better understand the problems with background check legislation and our society’s inability to limit gun-related homicides. Now, even though we seem unable to limit gun related violence in our country via legislation or increased policing, I do not believe we should rid ourselves from the long standing history we have with guns and mandate their removal from the hands of gun owners, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding citizens. However, in order to continue to challenge my views on guns I must begin to undergo a closer evaluation of the increasingly stringent laws being enacted at the local and state levels aimed at combating gun-related homicides. Although the scope of my research during this semester did not focus on the various effectiveness of these stricter policies (i.e. purchase to permit and restrictions on high-capacity magazines), I must ultimately do my due diligence by researching current and future scholarly work on these regulations. The conclusions I draw from this research may ultimately effect where I decide to settle down in the future (I’d like to ultimately live in a state/locale where the rights of those to keep in bear arms is protected but also in a place that has a history of passing laws/regulations that have shown signs of being effective elsewhere first) and the positions I take on gun control moving forward. Although my criteria for where I’d like to live and ultimately raise a family with regards to gun legislation may be overly idealistic, I firmly believe scholarly work on guns will continue to provide valuable insights into the ramifications of our leaders’ decisions.
In the end, I am very thankful I took this class because it provided me an avenue to both defend and challenge my own position on the role of guns in our society and to hear the views of incredibly intelligent students with opposing views, such as Imogen Jenkins and Hayden Abene. I hope to engage with this topic further as I come closer to graduating Wake Forest and attending law school. I’d like to thank Dr. Yamane for hosting a great shooting outing, cultivating some great discussion throughout the semester, and for allowing me, a Politics and International Affairs Major, to take this class.