This is the fourth of five student final reflection papers from my Sociology of Guns seminar at Wake Forest University.
I selected this particular response because the student comments specifically on John Johnston’s visit to class.
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 McGee Bosworth
I registered for The Sociology of Guns class because I wanted to learn and understand different perspectives. In order to have an educated opinion on what I truly believe about guns and gun control, I needed to learn more about this controversial topic aside from what I’ve been told by my family. Neither of my parents has ever held or shot a gun and are strong gun control advocates. In contrast to that viewpoint, my grandfather sleeps with a pistol under his pillow. So, I needed to learn more to reconcile these viewpoints, and throughout this semester, I have done just that. Prior to this class, I had absolutely no experience or basic knowledge about guns, gun control, and their presence in American society. All my opinions about guns came from my family and whatever I observed through the news and other media outlets. Based on those sources, I held a negative perspective of gun ownership in general and a more pro-gun control point-of-view. I felt guns add more violence to society rather than help to solve any problems. I saw guns as an item that, when added to potentially violent and dangerous situations, only added more fuel to an already existing fire. While I neither see myself as a future gun-owner nor “pro-gun” in any way, this class helped open my eyes to a broader understanding of America’s relationship with guns.
My major writing assignment focused on perceived fear of victimization and its relationship to the “stereotypical” gun owner, as well as to increasing rates of defensive gun ownership in American society. In essence, there is an increase in defensive gun ownership, specifically among women, which can be attributed to fear of being a victim fanned by constant news stories about an increasingly dangerous world. When looking at gun ownership from a “fear” perspective, I understand people’s desire for a gun based on overwhelming levels of fear. The world is a seemingly dangerous place. Every day, it seems as if there is news of another horrific and deadly act. In a world where people believe it’s not even safe to send their children to school, people seek increased protection in any way that they can. Defensive gun ownership, specifically concealed carry, affords people the opportunity to be on guard at all times. When properly trained and familiar with the laws regarding concealed carry in one’s state, people believe they can utilize a concealed firearm to protect themselves. As the saying goes, “the only thing capable of stopping a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun;” and, to an extent, I now understand why people believe in that philosophy. However, the reality is that people are not necessarily well trained in the art of shooting, specifically defensive shooting in self-preservation situations. Often, people are not even familiar with the laws in their state regarding concealed carry. I understand that people must go through certain classes and take exams to obtain their concealed carry permits, but these requirements and their intensity vary state-by-state. Therefore, I believe it is naïve to believe that all people who have and utilize concealed carry are qualified, or capable, of doing so.
When John Johnston came to speak to our class, I asked whether or not one could really prime themselves, or train their muscle memory, to respond to high intensity and frightening situations properly. John discussed how he believes that in consistently repeating the steps of an action over and over again, people can train their muscles to automatically respond properly in a dangerous and chaotic situation, despite any initial emotional response. While John explained his reasoning with much evidence and passion, I remain unconvinced. I understand the theory behind muscle priming. People use repetition to train their muscles to remember things unconsciously all of the time; in essence, training themselves to act or react without even having to think. I am very familiar with this concept. I’m a competitive equestrian. Riding horses is not something that I have to “think” about—it is something that my body knows how to do; and, that knowledge comes from years of practice and training. I understand John’s reasoning in that people can train themselves to not “think” about shooting a gun; it can be second nature. People can develop the skills and tools to react quickly, effectively, and safely when necessary. But, I think his reasoning overlooks a powerful mitigating factor—fear. In a life-threatening situation where firearms are involved, I do not believe cool rationality and calculability would be the prominent emotions felt. I think that people would act out of fear, out of survival, with muscle memory impacted by the adrenaline rush and uncertainty of the situation. If it were me, my initial inclination would be to take care of myself, to get out of that situation. And, as much as I like to think I could train myself to get up and protect others as I had potentially done many times over in some sort of simulation, I know that fear would play a major role in my response. The difference in this situation, though, is that when guns are involved, it is life or death. While a properly executed defense could save people’s lives, a miscalculation could cost your life or the lives of countless other innocent people. While I understand the potential benefits of guns in dangerous situations, I also cannot help but see the potential danger that they hold should the situation not go as planned, and I believe they rarely go exactly as planned.
Although my opinions towards guns and gun control have not necessarily changed, I feel that The Sociology of Guns provided me with a basis of knowledge that I lacked. Now, I have evidence-based research and literature from which to form my opinions. To further expand and develop my opinions on guns, I need to look more into people’s psychology and the mindset behind concealed carry. Much of the information that I took from this semester pointed to the fact that many people are afraid. Whether or not it’s an accurate portrayal, the media presents a frightening version of reality. And, unfortunately, the media is where many people derive their opinions about the safety of society. People constantly ask themselves whether or not they could be next. Is the concert they are going to this Friday night going to be safe? Is their classroom going to be the one that gets attacked? There will never be comforting answers to these questions. Thus, people seek ways in which to feel protected; and, defensive gun ownership is one way to potentially answer those unanswerable questions. However, I cannot help but think about the potential downsides to guns—the dangers, misfires, and miscalculations. While The Sociology of Guns encouraged me to open up my eyes and become more willing to ponder different viewpoints about guns, I still feel that fighting fire with fire leads to more bloody problems than bloody solutions. I feel as though there are better ways—waiting periods, better registries, firepower and magazine limitations among others.