Following is the first of what I hope is several essays written by students in my Sociology of Guns seminar at Wake Forest University. The essays reflect on the field trip we took as a class to ProShots Range. I post this and other essays here with permission but without comment. Your comments are welcome.
By Alex Ruf
On January 24th, 2018, I stepped into a gun store and accompanying gun range for the first time. Prior to this, I had only shot a rifle at my grandfather’s farm when I was 15 years old. I distinctly remember feeling cool but scared when I shot for the very first time. My feelings when shooting this time were the exact same: feeling in control and powerful, but also out-of-control due to the scary machine that I was holding in my hands. I was determined to try it again this round because I love trying new things and wanted the experience.
I felt immensely proud of myself when I shot the smaller gun and hit my target precisely: the center of the black number two. Leading up to it I was anxious, afraid that the gun would shove me backwards (a little dramatic, but I am a small person), or that I would miss entirely and somehow shoot directly into the ground. The nerves of others around me (some people were shaking) did not help either. Nevertheless, I was proud of both my efforts and the result.
My prior feelings of guns in the U.S. were mixed. I felt that anytime I heard anything about a gun, it was something negative. I also associated (and still do) guns with my alt-right uncle, who typically clashes with me on many political subjects and is a proud owner of a multitude of guns. I have never supported the elimination of guns entirely; I have, and still do, support the increased regulation of them. One segment of the trip that reaffirmed my position was a portion of the Q&A session with Richard. When I asked whether they can double check buyers’ responses to the “disqualifying questions” on the “Firearms Transaction Record,” I was told no. I then gathered from further discussion that the sellers’ typically rely on their intuition when deciding whether to continue a purchase. This struck me as a red flag; as a psychology major, I understand that human intuition consistently proves to be unreliable—and couldn’t potential buyers just lie? Having already heard through media exposure that obtaining a gun is too easy, seeing it firsthand disturbed me. I was also surprised to learn that there are a lot of unregistered, unknown gun users, due to sales at gun shows—I had previously thought that each gun sale was carefully monitored and regulated.
Despite the anxiety I felt when realizing the simplicity of gun-buying, I found myself surprised at the pleasure I felt when shooting a gun and aiming correctly enough to hit my target. I had always respected that others felt empowered when holding a gun, but had not ever understood why it was so empowering, until last Wednesday. I even felt empowered loading the gun and pulling the trigger. I found the idea of additional safety and security appealing; I felt that if I knew I had a gun in my house in case of emergencies, I would sleep better at night. I was surprised to see that younger kids were shooting when we were shooting as well. It put me a little on edge to think of a younger kid holding a machine that can easily kill someone, and it made me wonder whether there is a minimum federal law that mandates a necessary age for a child to be able to shoot at a range. I was also surprised to learn that seasoned shooters sometimes forget to unload their gun, and Richard even told us a story about a man who shot himself on accident. Hearing these stories and seeing the guns in action was both empowering and scary at the same time; it’s a great way for individuals to blow off steam, but guns also have the potential to go horribly wrong. It was a great experience to see the place where it all happens firsthand, and it made me consider joining a shooting range once I’m older. Overall, the experience reaffirmed but also contradicted my previous understanding of guns. Seeing the questionnaire that prospective buyers fill out made me nervous about gun purchases because it seemed too easy, but seeing guns shot at a range made me feel more reassured about recreational shooting. I feel that I better understand arguments used on both sides of the gun debate.