As before, one of the three major learning objectives for Version 2.0 of my Sociology of Guns seminar was that the students would:
Better understand your personal beliefs about guns, including scrutinizing your own relationship to guns so as to make informed choices about your own participation with and the place of guns in the communities in which you live.
To this end, I again assigned a three part writing assignment that asked students to address the question: What Role Should and Do Guns Play in (American) Society?
The first part of this assignment asked students to reflect on their own personal views of the role that guns SHOULD play in (American) society. The second part of the assignment had students move beyond their personal views and adopt a more scholarly approach to the issue. Here the question was not what role should guns play, but what role do guns play according to the empirical (social scientific) research? In the final writing assignment for the semester, students revisited their personal views of the role guns should play in society (Paper 1) in light of their considerations of the role guns actually do play in American society (Paper 2). Paper 3, therefore, had the students address the question, Where do you stand now and why?
Below is the first of four student responses to this question that I will be posting this week. I hope readers find these students’ thoughts – reflective of their earnest efforts to understand better the issue of guns in society – as interesting as I did.
By Sebastian L. Ivory
When I began this class, I had an uninformed and naïve view of guns. Despite coming from a community where the majority of individuals had owned guns, my family had never owned a firearm. My view on guns had primarily been shaped by my partisanship. I believed in a strong sense of gun control including background checks and the reinstitution of an assault weapons ban. I also advocated for increased education on guns. I had taken information that I had received from partisan sources and the media to come to the conclusion that mass shootings were a major issue that was shaping the nation and that gun control was the only solution to solving this problem. Immediately the firearms course and the opportunity to shoot at the range opened my eyes to a world that I had been so unfamiliar with. Speaking from personal experience, you cannot know how strong a gun is until you hold one in your own hands.
Currently, I would say my focus on guns all comes down to safety and education. While I may not personally be looking to run out and get a gun tomorrow, I have realized the many benefits that guns have on society. When I was writing my paper evaluating Wright’s Fourth Point, which acknowledges many guns are owned for self-defensive purposes, I did not become convinced about the potential communal safety but I did become convinced about the psychological benefits of carrying a weapon. Despite writing my paper arguing for concealed carry and more widespread passage of right-to-carry laws, I do not believe I have reached that point in my personal views yet. Since the research showed limited downside to right-to-carry laws, and the potential for significant upside, I should be more open to this idea. In a case such as Luby’s Cafeteria, Gretia Hupp may have been able to limit the magnitude of the Luby’s Massacre if her weapon could have been on her instead of in her car allowing her to shoot the perpetrator before George Hennard was able to kill 23 people. I view a scenario where there is a mass shooting and four people pull their concealed weapons. How do the other “good guys with guns” know the difference between a co-conspirator and a “good guy with a gun”? A situation may accidentally escalate just accidentally, even though an individual may have good intentions.
A policy recommendation I would make is requiring prospective concealed carriers to take a course on their weapon and gun safety, and pass a simple firing test. The concealed carrier would be required to pass the firing test every five years to ensure proper mechanics. While I am not confident this will reduce the number of gun accidents due to concealed carry, I believe this will lead to individuals taking the decision to conceal carry very seriously. I also want to ensure that the cost of this increased licensing does not make concealed carrying cost-prohibitive (similar to receiving a Drivers License). While I want people to be thoughtful about their decision to conceal carry, many of the areas with the highest crime rates, where concealed carrying MAY make the largest difference are low-income areas.
Even after the course, I would say that I remain supportive of a modest background check period, but I’m more lukewarm about an assault weapons ban. If an individual has nothing to hide, they should not be fearful of receiving a background check. This keeps both gun owners and gun salesman accountable. If there is no reason for concern revealed from a background check, a prospective buyer can pick up their gun after 72 hours. With regards to an assault weapon, I realized just how ambiguous the term “assault weapon” is. If you make slight modifications to a weapon, you can turn a standard firearm into an assault weapon. While I think there are some weapons that need to be restricted to use by the state, I believe before we look to reinstitute an assault weapons ban, we must better define what an assault weapon is.
This is not to say that I do not see many problems with the gun culture in the United States. I believe a lot of the language that is used in the gun culture represents the worst of dog whistles. When reading Angela Stroud’s Good Guys with Guns and listening to Harel Shapira, I learned so much about what occurs within the gun culture. I see the epitome of a good guy with a gun tends to be a white individual, who becomes educated on his gun, properly conceals it in a holster, and then uses his gun to protect the community against a thug. The thug is epitomized as a young African-American wearing baggy jeans who keeps his gun in his waistband and waves it around like a toy. While firearms instructors rarely use overtly racialized language, the imagery they use confirms these beliefs. I believe this culture is why we have had incidents such as the one between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, where a likely innocent African-American boy was brutally murdered by a community watchman, who reported fearing for his safety.
Looking into the future, I want to continue to work to be more informed. One thing I remain very curious is about is the racialized language within the gun culture. Especially in Trump’s America where we are likely going to experience a swing back towards fewer restrictions on gun owners, I would be interested to see how this language may lead to certain incidents of violence (whether intentional or accidental) based on racial characteristics and potential prejudice (risk in hate crimes after the election- potential for hate crimes with guns?). Additionally, I want to continue to think critically about the role of gun safety. While I may have become more open to the American gun culture, I still believe that guns can be very dangerous weapons if they are not utilized in the way they should be. I am not naïve enough to believe we can ever become a society where there is no need for guns for any non-recreational purpose, but I believe I have reached a point where I can be very vigilant on guns, and respect them for what they can be.
In summary, I want to take a quote from our final reading of the year, “As one southern Democratic senator recently put it, the gun debate is ‘about values’ — ‘about who you are and who you aren’t’. Or in the even more pithy formulation of another group of politically minded commentators, ‘It’s the Culture, Stupid!’” (1294). I’ve heard some great arguments in support of more conservative, less restricted gun arguments that I think were very well stated, and backed with data and rhetoric, but the personal values I hold conflict with this perspective. I think the important thing is that I’m willing to sit down and listen to these conversations and come to the table with an open mind. That needs to be the first step when looking to find compromise on an issue.