As before, my students’ range of experience with firearms varies from experienced shooters and hunters to never having touched a gun. As someone who never handled a firearm until my 40s, I know how important it is to approach the issue of guns with some basic information about and exposure to firearms.
On the first Saturday of the semester, this past Labor Day weekend in fact, my 13 students and I made our way 30 miles from campus to the Veterans Range in Mocksville, NC.
As with last year, our field trip began in the classroom, with an introductory overview of firearms types, operations, and safety, presented by Shawn Moore.
This year I also asked students on the first day of class to list questions they had about firearms so that Shawn could address them. Here are the questions they gave me:
- What is the mechanism behind how a gun is fired?
- What are the primary different types of guns?
- What are different bullet sizes?
- For guns and bullets, what are the basic types?
- Does every single different type of gun require a different type of bullet, or are there some types of “standardized” bullets that work in many guns?
- What are the differences between automatic and semi-automatic guns?
- Do semi-automatic weapons have safeties?
- What makes a weapon an assault weapon?
- What types of guns can be legally purchased?
- How hard is it to make a homemade gun?
- How lethal can a 3D printed gun really be?
- If taken care of, how long before a gun starts to break down?
- Is there a certain way or key to shoot different guns?
Particularly for people who have grown up or have spent alot of time in gun culture, it is worth observing that many people have very basic and sincere questions about firearms.
After an hour in the classroom, we moved to the outdoor range. I got everyone situated with their hearing and eye protection while Shawn prepared the range. The plan was to shoot a .22 handgun (Smith & Wesson semi-auto), a 9mm handgun (Glock), and a .556 rifle (IWI Tavor).
With the students gathered at the 25 yard line, one student at a time shot 10 rounds of .22LR under Shawn’s close supervision. For every student he observed and assisted them in inserting the magazine into the gun, and for those who were less experienced he helped them grip, aim, and fire it. The process was slow and methodical — appropriately so.
No student was required to go to the range, but I strongly encouraged it. Also, no student was required to shoot, but all the students did, including my student representing the Bronx Defenders who had never shot before.
Because it took some time for 13 students to work their way through the 10 rounds of .22 each, we skipped the 9mm handgun and went straight to the Tavor.
After Shawn demonstrated what the .556 round sounded like out of the Tavor without a suppressor — loud to be sure, but no Gersh Kuntzman “temporary PTSD” was inflicted — the students shot 5 rounds with a suppressor and red dot sight.
Again, Shawn closely supervised each shooter with an eye toward safety, since even those who had shot guns before had probably not handled a gun like the Tavor.
In reflecting on the experience of shooting, one student who had not shot before said it made her feel “powerful.” Another first time shooter described the feeling as “exhilarating.” Several students said it helped them to understand why people would enjoy shooting guns, even if they themselves were not converted to it.
The students reflected that they generally felt safe with the shooting restricted to one shooter and one gun at a time with Shawn always within arms reach supervising.
At the same time, a couple of students wondered how common it was to allow people to use firearms without any way of establishing their mental health in advance. It is true that if one of my students had evil intentions they could have done some damage with the .22 and alot of damage with the Tavor.
Similarly, one student expressed her amazement that she had to sign a release to go to a trampoline park, but no release was required to shoot at the range. I suggested that this varies considerably from range to range. I have been asked to sign a release before to shoot on someone’s private range.
All in all, the field trip was a positive experience for me and my students. It gives us a good informational and experiential basis upon which to build our sociological understanding of the role of guns in society.