Sociology of Guns Seminar Field Trip to Gun Range

One of the “must keep” elements of my Sociology of Guns seminar from last fall was a class field trip to the gun range.

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:

  1. What is the mechanism behind how a gun is fired?
  2. What are the primary different types of guns?
  3. What are different bullet sizes?
  4. For guns and bullets, what are the basic types?
  5. 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?
  6. What are the differences between automatic and semi-automatic guns?
  7. Do semi-automatic weapons have safeties?
  8. What makes a weapon an assault weapon?
  9. What types of guns can be legally purchased?
  10. How hard is it to make a homemade gun?
  11. How lethal can a 3D printed gun really be?
  12. If taken care of, how long before a gun starts to break down?
  13. 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.


  1. Several observations:

    Was there a particular reason for using human silhouette targets for a first time shooting experience?

    Were the students given any instruction on shooting stance? It appears that all the students were leaning backward from the rifle and subsequently had difficulty using the sights.


    • Thanks for these thoughts and questions!

      There was no conscious reason for using the silhouette targets. Those are just the ones that are plentiful at this range. In last year’s class there was one student who specifically asked to shoot a non-humanoid target and we happily changed one. This year, no student asked. Next year I should be more conscious of this.

      In terms of shooting technique, there was no intention of giving shooting instruction, per se. Given the time constraints of cycling 13 shooters through the guns, we mostly wanted people to be able to safely fire the guns for the experience. Perhaps next year a bit of group instruction on grip and stance would be helpful.


  2. I think it’s great that you teach this class.

    Are you aware of instructors at other colleges and universities offering similar courses? Just curious if anyone else out there is taking this idea and running with it.

    Regarding the range day, given how often. The AR15 is in the news, I think the instructor should have used one of those in lieu of a Tavor, a relatively exotic rifle. Indeed, the Baton Rouge shooter used a Tavor to kill three cops, but the rifle was identified in most news circles as an “AR style rifle”, which of course it is not.

    Keep it up!



    • Hey, Robert – Thanks for the thoughts and questions. I do not know of other classes like these, though I do get a few comments and questions from other faculty when I post about the class. So perhaps down the road we will see more.

      The issue of shooting the AR-15 is a good one. Last year we had two stations at the range so it was easier to get the students through more guns more quickly. Last year the students had the opportunity to shoot the .22 handgun and a 9mm handgun, as well as an AR-15 and the same Tavor. With just one station this year, we had to skip the 9mm just to get to the Tavor.

      Shooting the Tavor was nice for students who had more shooting experience, and being able to shoot a suppressed rifle was good for everyone. I do, however, think that next year if I do this again I will try to get two shooting stations again.


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