This is the sixth 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), second, third, fourth, and fifth.
This author’s initial reflection is available is available as well.
By Katie Huggins
I came into this semester very strongly anti-gun. Despite growing up in a military family and living in Georgia for the last thirteen years, communities that both have a strong pro-gun culture, I tend to forget that there are legitimate uses for gun ownership, from gun sports to a need for self-defense. I never understood the appeal of target shooting or hunting because I did not grow up in a household that regularly participated in these sports, and I was dubious of the need of a gun for self-defense because I have never lived with such a deeply-seated fear of violence. In studying these areas of gun culture, I was reminded that these communities are not as unreasonable and backwards as liberal media likes to make them out to be. Gun advocates are no more flawed individually than the rest of us, and they are certainly more moderate than their large-scale advocates. I still take issue with the NRA’s route of extremism—which is not unmatched on the gun control side—and its contribution to the difficulty of navigating any sort of discussion around the political issues surrounding guns. I would not go so far as to say that I am a fully-fledged gun advocate. I remain skeptical of such wholehearted support of firearm rights, but it was important for me to recognize that there is more to gun culture than recklessness and violence.
However, I cannot completely ignore the phenomenon of American gun violence. Because I focused my research on mass public shootings, I find myself especially aware of such instances of gun violence when reports of incidents surface in the news. Several highly publicized public shootings took place during the semester, including the mass public shooting at a community college in Oregon, a shooter at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado, and the shooting in San Bernadino suspected to be inspired by the large-scale terror attack in Paris last month. Each time a new event was reported, I always felt a sense of irony that grated me as I braced for the momentary pause we would have in class to reflect on the event. After those sessions, I would feel myself tensing for the remarks from friends and family who knew I was taking this class, the inevitable knowing nod and the query “What was it they had to say in your gun class about this event?” My friends’ assumed introspective air with their question always left an opening for insightful answers and solutions that simply do not exist. In fact, my main observation from studying mass public shootings is that there is so much we do not know, which is curious given how the country has developed a collective sense of trauma that we must play out with each new incident. I was surprised by how difficult of a task it was to study mass public shootings, quite simply because there is virtually no existing research on the topic; there is not even a uniform definition, and I was only able to cobble together a tentative one for the sake of carrying out my paper. I had to glean my very limited findings from bodies of literature more generally focused on mass homicide and a few pieces dedicated to school shootings and active shooter scenarios. There is so much we still need to know, because I still hold that it is a concern that is indicative of a larger problem: the pattern of gun violence and gun homicide in the United States that is without peer in comparable countries.
With these issues in mind, I still hold that an ideal situation would result in the outright removal of guns in private hands. However, this class has made me most aware of the difficulty of finding a solution to gun violence, especially for cases of mass public shootings. Our discussions of the intense polarization between gun control and gun rights advocates were particularly disheartening because this division is a new and unnecessary development, as measures of gun control have historically coexisted with protections of gun rights. This balance is important to remember because the legacy of private gun rights is too deeply entrenched in the American cultural narrative to allow for complete disarmament. For these reasons, the issues surrounding guns in American society are more nuanced than I had originally realized, making the solutions to American gun violence less apparent than a cursory understanding would imply. In the wake of each new mass shooting, there are inevitable proposed solutions to gun violence that materialize online, but they generally gloss over these issues. For example, I scrolled past a video on Facebook a few weeks ago claiming “concerned Australians have a simple solution to American gun violence.” Even from this tagline, I knew the video would don the condescending tone that was consistent with articles we read in class assessing the effectiveness of handgun bans in Australia and Great Britain. This patronizing posturing is more grating than it is useful. The issue seems simple: any measure of gun violence is too much, but the political gridlock on this issue prevents the passage of any viable measures to change this phenomenon, making the means of resolution or any moves towards one far more complex. The material I have studied in this class has made me more passionate in my convictions, so I will need to pay particular attention to maintaining sensitivity to the gun rights movement, by paying attention to the legitimacy of their claims.