Sociology of Guns Student Field Trip Reflection Essay 1

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.


  1. It’s great to see people actually getting out and learning, seeing things for what they really are — instead of what they perceive, or what others may have told/fed them.

    Hopefully Alex Ruf will continue to explore, as it seems there are still many questions and concerns.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. “When I asked whether they can double check buyers’ responses to the ‘disqualifying questions’ on the ‘Firearms Transaction Record,’ I was told no.”

    How, exactly, would one do so? If the first check is through NICS, what would the second check be through? Some state system, which would likely have the exact same info (assuming they’re reporting disqualifiers to the Feds)? Double-checking with the same data for each check is not a double-check.

    Liked by 3 people

      • The way it’s stated, it does appear that he has the impression that the FFL is just using “intuition” to determine if the questions are being honestly answered. It seems he doesn’t understand that the “intuition” part is supplemental.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, there is some confusion here, in part because the system can be somewhat confusing. Different states have different rules for purchasing guns. As Sean notes here, in NC we have a pistol permit system so no NICS check is necessary for a person who presents their permit as they have already been vetted by the sheriff. If you have a concealed carry permit, you don’t need a pistol purchase permit. CC permits are good for 5 years, so if you become a prohibited person before your permit expires, the gun store doesn’t have a way of verifying that. The NICS system is only as good as the information that goes into it. So, there are ways of verifying the answers given on the 4473 form, but as Richard meant to suggest in his response, ultimately he can’t with certitude verify whether a person is telling the truth or lying. Lying on the form is a crime, of course, but IIRC one which is not often prosecuted.

        Liked by 1 person

      • “CC permits are good for 5 years, so if you become a prohibited person before your permit expires, the gun store doesn’t have a way of verifying that.”

        Concealed Handgun Permits do last 5 years, that’s true. But the moment you’re charged with an offense that disqualifies you, the Sheriff will suspend your permit and physically take it away from you. If you’re in his county when you’re charged, he’ll take it at that time. If you’re charged in a different county, they will send a deputy to your house to take it.

        Pistol Purchase Permits also last 5 years, and it used to be possible to hold on to one after being charged with a disqualifying offense. But the law has changed. The Sheriff must keep records and must act to recover the permit should you be charged with or convicted of a disqualifying offense. It would be better if the Sheriff simply advised the National Instant Check System that you were prohibited (which he’ll do anyway) and the firearms seller would get a “Decline” when he called to verify on pistol sales just like on rifle/shotgun sales rather than depend on a loosely tracked paper permit system.

        PPPs are a holdover from the Jim Crow era when Sheriffs would refuse permission to buy a handgun to anyone they didn’t like. “Didn’t Like” being a euphemism for “has a darker skin tone than Hedy Lamarr.” We should get rid of them.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. “When I asked whether they can double check buyers’ responses to the “disqualifying questions” on the “Firearms Transaction Record,” I was told no.”

    To be clear, there is that background check. In NC, you are required to get a Pistol Purchase Permit (an old Jim Crow law) from the Sheriff prior to purchasing a pistol. And as for shotguns and rifles, the store has to contact the FBI to get clearance to proceed with the sale. (Ignoring for the moment the “default proceed” after three days delay)

    So it’s not possible for the counter clerk to individually check the answers to the questions, if you’re lying, you are very likely to be caught when the Sheriff or the FBI say “NO” when asked to permit the sale.

    You’re correct that relying on intuition isn’t the best method of screening potential customers. Consider the case of the person who looks a little “sketchy” and gets refused a sale when he’s perfectly legal to own a firearm. To that end, the ATF and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (the firearms industry trade group) have developed training to help gun sellers spot potential illegal sales. You can see the info here.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I found it interesting the distinction between what she had always been told by media and the reality of the experience at first hand. The initial experience was GC 1.0 and I suspect the uncle the same like me. But your seminar is GC 2.0 in providing an introduction to the gun world and (it appears to me) dealing in facts as opposed to the lies of the MSM.

    Keep your powder dry and your faith in God.


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