This is the third of five student final reflection papers from my Sociology of Guns seminar at Wake Forest University.
For reference, the assignment was: In this final essay, you will revisit your previous personal experience with and understanding of guns in the U.S. (as expressed, e.g., in the field trip reflection essay) in light of your consideration of the role guns actually do play in American society. Reflecting on what you learned from completing your major writing assignment, as well as the class more generally, discuss how your mind has (and/or has not) changed. Conclude this paper by considering what more you need to know in order to make informed choices about your own participation with and the place of guns in the communities in which you live and will live in the future.
By Riley Satterwhite
I came into this class with a fairly decent understanding of how guns function mechanically, and the sporting aspect of guns, but I did not fully understand the extent to which guns played a role in our society. Additionally, I had never examined any aspects of guns from a cross-national prospective, which I got to do in depth through my research paper. This class provided me with the empirical data to be able to have educational discussions with other people, on a topic that I am very passionate about. Overall, this class turned a sport that I love into a discussion on how guns have a different role and impact on everyone’s life, and so many different demographics and personality characteristics influence this role.
One of the most interesting articles we discussed in class was by Harcourt, talking about guns at an all boy correctional facility in Tucson, Arizona. This class discussion was about self-defense motivations of criminals, which is a perspective that I had never used to examine guns prior to this class. Harcourt interviewed boys ages twelve to seventeen at a correctional facility to understand what they think when they see a picture of a gun. I found some of these categories very interesting such as a commodity that they could use to trade for drugs. In this description, Jessica was presenting, and she went through some of the common street drugs and compared it to the worth of some of the guns traded on the street, which was a very interesting way to examine the value of guns. Harcourt found that some of these kids even looked at the gun in almost a seductive manner, which was one of the most shocking findings of this study. Looking at how these boys thought of guns was eye opening because in some of the areas they are from, not having a gun puts them in extreme danger to other gang members or people they live near, but owning a gun puts them in extreme danger with the police. They have this constant mental battle of should I buy a gun to protect myself and risk getting arrested, or risk getting shot so I don’t get arrested.
This constant fear correlates directly with the topic I presented on in class on “Legal Cynicism and Protective Gun Ownership.” Prior to this class, I had briefly learned about the Stop and Frisk Movement, but I had never related this concept of “Legal Cynicism” to an increase in “criminals” purchasing guns. I had the mindset that good guys with guns are good, and bad guys with guns are bad coming into this class, but this class period made me rethink this mindset. A lot of these people might be considered bad guys because they obtained the gun illegally, but they only obtained the gun to protect themselves. In the piece on legal cynicism in Chicago, a lot of these offenders live in areas where they fear that the police won’t put forth their best efforts to protect them, so they feel obligated to take matters into their own hands. Self-defense is one of the major reasons a lot of people in America have recently acquired a gun, and this Chicago study found that 83% of the “active criminals” who recently acquired a gun, acquired it for protection. In my research for this presentation, I found that a lot of cities and neighborhoods are designing programs for citizens to have the opportunity to socialize with their local police officers in a very friendly environment. This helps them realize that the police are just everyday people like themselves that they do not need to fear, and who are there to protect them. I don’t think this is a solution to eliminating crime in the United States, but I think that creating closer bonds between the community and the police could help slowly reduce crime rates.
The research I did for my final research paper helped me to see just how complex laws around gun issues really are. We hear in the media on a constant basis “ban guns” or “arm teachers” and other hyperbolized suggestions, but I didn’t realize the complexity behind them until doing research on gun laws in the United States and Australia. One thing that was really emphasized in this research was the idea of a buyback policy. Before we can implement any strict gun laws in the United States that would ban a type of gun, we have to assess what are we going to do with the ones already in circulation. This was a huge issue with the Assault Weapons Ban because although they made certain types of weapons illegal, they did not collect the ones already in civilian hands. Additionally, because the United States doesn’t have a national registry it would be extremely difficult to fully implement a buyback policy and successfully collect the majority of guns in civilian hands.
Also, in comparison to Australia, the United States moved so slowly when implementing changes in gun laws. I think this is because guns are such a highly politicized topic, that in order to make drastic changes, one political party is almost always going to be in disagreement. I found it very interesting that Australia was able to implement such huge changes in their country in such a short period of time. It was very interesting conducting this research right after the Douglas High School Shooting. The Senate Bill 7026 was signed in Florida less than a month after the shooting which raised the age to buying guns to 21 and added in a three-day waiting period, but within hours of this the NRA filed a law suit challenging this bill. They also tried to add an assault weapon ban aspect to this bill, but that was shut down immediately. This example shows just how difficult it is to get everyone on board, on such a controversial topic in the United States, even if it was a lot easier in Australia.
Overall, this was by far my favorite class I’ve taken at Wake, and I feel like I learned a lot and I was able to examine a topic I am very interested in from a more academic perspective. I would really need to learn more about some of the specific legislative changes people are trying to propose to reduce gun violence. I learned a lot about the Assault Weapons Ban, but I think some of the more recent proposals would help me make a decision on which route is the best to take. I don’t think any of the solutions proposed will fully reduce gun violence in the United States, but I think it is going to take a combination of smaller steps over time, in order to get everyone in agreement on legislative changes. I will continue to shoot guns competitively, and I plan on getting my concealed carry license when I turn 21, but I am now more attuned to the role guns play in other societies that have more of a negative or dangerous association with guns.