The students’ writing prompt was:
In this essay, you will describe your experience participating in the introduction to firearms class and range visit. The essay is a subjective recollection of your experience at the range, so the content is largely up to you, but it must answer the following question: How did the experience fit with your prior understanding of guns in the US?
To answer this question you might benefit from thinking about the following related questions: What did you find surprising? What did you learn? What did you find appealing (or disturbing)? Although you can (and should) reference particular events, processes, or experiences, this essay should not be a mere “play-by-play” of what you did during the field trip. [Assignment from Brett Burkhardt, Oregon State University]
By Spencer Schiller
During our first sociology class on the 24th of January, fellow students and I had the opportunity to attend a gun range/store in Rural Hall, NC. My excitement was definitely noted by a few of my friends, both in and out of the class, who knew that I had only shot a gun a few times. In preparation, I was thoroughly interested in the articles Professor Yamane provided us with, especially in the guise of the American perspective on the experience of shooting a gun. As a pre-law student who has grown up all over the world and attended high school in a rural town in Pennsylvania, I was both aware of different perspectives on gun laws and intrigued by their presence in a national and international context. Overall, my experience was memorable and most definitely differed from certain prior understandings of guns I had kept, while others were reaffirmed. I admired the knowledge of the professionals working at the range, the respect the weapons received, and came away from my experience with further interest and a desire to learn more.
Initially, I noticed the importance placed on safety in the range, and the casual yet respectful way that the workers there answered questions about weapons. I browsed the store prior to the beginning of class and took note of not only the wide variety of guns available, but also the range of customization options present. While some guns were black and resembled military-grade machinery, others were multicolored or vintage, and further options such as different types of bullets, holsters, and scopes were available. I noted the clothing present in the store and what seemed to be a garter holster marketed toward women in what could be construed as a “femme fatale” sort of campaign. This subtle yet seemingly empowering theme was surprisingly everywhere. As noted by both the articles we read beforehand, as well as the workers at the range, some gun names seemed to have patriotic or defensive names. As we began to ask questions and hear about the safety briefing and expectations of the range, I noticed the sheer number of types of guns present but that no machine guns were displayed. While I am aware that Americans have the right to purchase and use machine guns, I was surprised and maybe somewhat relieved that this was the practice of this particular range. While I had shot a pistol and a revolver before, I was slightly embarrassed that I did not know the exact different between a non-automatic and a semi-automatic weapon in relation to the loading mechanism. Eventually, I had the opportunity to ask a few questions about their policy toward individuals who had entered the store with an intent to buy a gun although they seemed “distraught”. To this he reiterated that it is not only the store’s policy but right to turn down these customers immediately. Other information like men and women teams entering the store to purchase weapons where the man has a felony was news to me that was really interesting to hear about.
In the actual range, although probably not relevant, it was surprisingly really cold. We had to put our ear plugs in beforehand and enter a sort of safety room which I had not remembered being present in previous ranges I had shot at. I was immediately taken aback by the array of ages of people in the range with older men to children of no more than 7 and 8 years of age. All individuals seemed very comfortable, professional, and well-practiced at the sport. As I waited in the range, I noticed how many individuals clearly cared about their hearing and the importance of other safety equipment like goggles and cases for their firearms. I noticed in particular two other individuals who were at the range who shot larger weapons with different types of targets taking incredible care with their shooting. Each of them wore camouflage hats, which was not surprising to me, potentially alluding to hunting or military service. In the next few minutes I had the opportunity to shoot both the 9 mm and the .22. While I liked the 9 mm, it was definitely the heavier and tougher to control weapon. I learned some great advice on shooting by lining up all three of the sights, making sure I was leaning forward, wrapping my thumbs correctly on the weapon, and pulling the trigger until the point that it stopped to finish with the forward sight as my target. This was unbelievably effective and I was immediately pleased with my shooting as we continued. Eventually, I went on to use the 22 which was really light, but not quite as fun to shoot as the 9 mm.
Over the next couple of hours, I reflected on how much I enjoyed the target practice and the interesting facts I learned about guns. From a legal sense, I found discrepancies between various states specifically fascinating. I also reflected on the nonchalant yet safe manner present in the gun range that seemed to be the norm for the range workers even around lethal weapons. I had several interesting conversations with friends and interest in the event when I showed them pictures. My parents, both fairly intolerant of gun use, were interested in my thoughts and surprised at my excitement. Even so, both loved the idea of studying the sociology of the subject and understanding further the American relationship with guns.