Image: Sandra Stroud Yamane
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By David Yamane, Wake Forest University

I grew up in the liberal culture of the San Francisco Bay Area and never touched a firearm until I was 42 years old, living in North Carolina and teaching sociology at Wake Forest University.

For the past 10-plus years I have been deeply immersed in American gun culture both professionally and personally. I have both studied and am a member of the Liberal Gun Club, National Rifle Association and other gun-related groups.

Having one foot outside and one foot inside gun culture allows me to see the social life of guns from different perspectives. Wanting to convey this diversity to others prompted me to construct and teach this course for the first time in 2015. This fall, I will teach the course for the ninth consecutive academic year.

What does the course explore?

Rather than focusing exclusively on gun violence and politics, my course looks more broadly at guns in society.

The class begins by literally putting firearms in students’ hands.

The first class meeting is at a gun range, where students have the opportunity – but are not required – to shoot three semi-automatic firearms: a .22 pistol, a Glock 17 9 mm pistol and an AR-15 style .223 caliber rifle. The field trip is a source of insight that carries through the entire semester.

Substantively, the course builds on the students’ firsthand experience of guns by exploring the multifaceted role they play in society. It puts guns in historical, legal and global contexts. The intention is to provide students with a greater understanding of the lawful possession and use of guns, gun crime and injuries, and the future of gun politics.

Guest speakers vary from semester to semester but include leaders of various gun owner groups, professional gun educators and trainers, and representatives of gun violence prevention organizations.

Why is this course relevant now?

It often feels as though the United States is being torn apart by cultural and political divisions over guns. As Mark Joslyn argues in “The Gun Gap,” the different social worlds inhabited by gun owners and non-owners shape not just their fundamental orientations to guns, risk and policy, but their very understanding of what constitutes a good society.

I believe that we as a society cannot repair this divide until people begin to talk to each other about their differences with the goal of mutual understanding. These conversations should be built on a solid foundation of empirical knowledge about the role guns actually play in society – both positive and negative.

What’s a critical lesson from the course?

The trip to the gun range stands out because it offers direct exposure to gunfire. As expected, student responses vary. Most enjoy it. Some dislike it. No one is indifferent. All are better able to relate to the course material because of it.

Image: Sandra Stroud Yamane

In particular, those who were personally repulsed by guns prior to the field trip often come to see why guns can be attractive to others. Those who had lacked exposure often become gun curious. And the few gun enthusiasts I get in my course do not just have their enthusiasm reinforced; they also understand why others see guns differently.

Reflecting on the field trip experience over the course of the semester through the lens of scholarship on guns turns the heat of gunfire on the range into the light of comprehension in the classroom.

What materials does the course feature?

The Liberal Gun Owners Lens, Pillar 1: The Human-Weapon Relationship” – which explains the deep anthropological connection between Homo sapiens and projectile weaponry.

Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America_,” – Adam Winkler’s magnificent book on the historical and legal context of guns.

Gun Culture 2.0: The Evolution and Contours of Defensive Gun Ownership in America” – my comprehensive summary of the history and development of gun culture in the United States.

Handgun Ownership and Suicide in California” and “Race and Mass Murder in the United States” – articles that address negative outcomes with guns in society.

What will the course prepare students to do?

“Sociology of Guns” teaches students to approach this fraught topic in a more objective and nuanced manner encompassing both the everyday uses and abuses of firearms. This knowledge then helps students better understand their own personal beliefs about and relationship to guns.

Taken together, these lessons prepare students to make informed choices for the rest of their lives about being involved with guns – or not – as well as the place of guns in the communities in which they will live.

The Conversation

David Yamane, Professor of Sociology, Wake Forest University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Uncommon Courses is an occasional series from The Conversation U.S. highlighting unconventional approaches to teaching.

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  1. I am going to take a wild assumption and guess that in class discussions are not censured for wrongspeak on either end. If so paired with actually experiencing the reality of firearms it should do wonders to get kids thinking where normally they would already have preprogrammed responses……..absolutely devilish.

    • The course will include:

      Handgun Ownership and Suicide in California and Race and Mass Murder in the United States

      What? So let’s teach youngsters to respect and handle guns, then talk to them about how having one is related to suicide and race? #wokenotwokebutstillwoke?

      • Perfectly ok with it so long as it is presented objectively and accurately. The truth has a way of making woke ridiculous.

  2. What in the hell is a “Sodiologist”? Sounds like someone who studies sodomy.

      • “…is someone in the science of laying grass.”

        Happiness is a backyard with a tall wood fence and new friends with a sense of adventure.

        Yeah, and the crawly bugs in the turf can be a bit annoying, but oh well… 🙂

    • Something a “liberal” gat owner is good at?!? I doubt his “liberal” bent is of the Dershowitz variety!🙄🙃

    • so·ci·ol·o·gist
      an expert in or student of the development, structure, and functioning of human society.

      In street lingo, someone sucking off the We The People’s teet, with no discernible positive value. One who cannot succeed at anything producing goods or services which willing and able people pay for.

      • People willingly and ably pay the man to teach. That’s his “goods and services”.

        Just because you don’t find value in education doesn’t mean others can’t.

    • my advice: stick to killnng squirrels. Even if you are terrible at it, you’ll still be far more successful at it than in learning useful skills and ideas.

  3. He is teaching this course in North Carolina which would have wildly different results if taught in San Francisco or Portland!
    I do agree with taking our narrow minded friends to the range!

    • Not so sure about that. I know a few hundred folks in the Portland area. Not one of them “hates guns” and most use them and enjoy them and appreciate their many uses and pleasures.

  4. “In the dimness of the shadows
    Where we hairy heathens warred,
    I can taste in thought the lifeblood;
    We used teeth before the sword.” G. Patton

    It ain’t about guns, or cultures, or communities. It’s about Mother Nature.

    ” ‘So careful of the type?’ but no.
    From scarped cliff and quarried stone
    She cries, `A thousand types are gone:
    I care for nothing, all shall go.

    ‘Thou makest thine appeal to me:
    I bring to life, I bring to death:
    The spirit does but mean the breath:
    I know no more.’ And he, shall he,

    Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,
    Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
    Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,
    Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

    Who trusted God was love indeed
    And love Creation’s final law—
    Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
    With ravine, shriek’d against his creed—”


    • Half a league, half a league, half a league onward. Honor the charge they made! Honor the Light Brigade, noble six hundred!

    • From: Through a Glass Darkly by General Patton
      Through the travail of the ages,
      Midst the pomp and toil of war,
      Have I fought and strove and perished
      Countless times upon this star.

      So as through a glass, and darkly
      The age long strife I see
      Where I fought in many guises,
      Many names, but always me.

  5. Now, there’s a course I would like to take, out of curiosity, to see how it is presented and what historical contexts are covered. How the professor covers legal and societal aspects with multi-generational students could be interesting. I would probably be asked to leave class after the third or fourth time I objected to the term “Gun Violence”.

  6. Just leave an ivory tower Gun Control proponent in a jail cell alone with a serial murderer, etc. The proponent needs to fully understand why murderous perps being transported to a court are shackled and surrounded by armed police officers.

  7. I dunno. One of my best friends and his wife graduated from Duke. I live a stone’s throw from FSU. Wake Forest makes me suspicious.

    • I don’t know, maybe it’s like the question that was asked of the bank robber as to why he robbed banks, ” thats where the money is “. The main problem in this and other countries is the brainwashing by only associating firearms with crime.

  8. “I believe that we as a society cannot repair this divide until people begin to talk to each other about their differences with the goal of mutual understanding.”

    We, as a society, already have mutual understanding: the Liberal, Leftist, Statists, Authoritarian, Dimwitocrat elements of society want the power to terrorize the populace through whatever means gets the job done. The other side wants to protect their means of survival.

    Where’s the lack of understanding between the control freaks, and the people wanting to maintain liberty?

    • I would imagine this is more for the ideology nonbinary / nonconforming unawares in society and mostly irrelevant to the control freaks and liberty minded who would more find it heretical/easy elective respectively.

      • “I would imagine this is more for the ideology nonbinary / nonconforming unawares in society…”

        More like a prime example of the schizophrenia of the statists: government is not to be trusted to never go rogue; government is the source of all safety, well-being, and prosperity.

        • Government is the root of all evil.
          The less of it, the better (just like the Founders intended).

  9. If I may be so bold? I would say if this course lives up to what the writer says it’s for.

    Then the white liberal, S0ci@list pr0gressive leftist. Who knows absolutely nothing about guns and nothing about the 2nd amendment. Just might learn something.

    And they are the one’s who say, publicly that “guns are only for white people.”

    I would suggest the book “Negroes and the Gun, the Black Tradition of Arms” by Nicholas Johnson (2014). Add it to their reading list.
    It’s about as non political as you’re going to get. Considering the subject matter. Compared to some other similar books.

    We used to have in the American education system,
    classes and shooting teams in the public school system. Usually at the junior high level and above. Up into the college level.

    But because of people like Tom Ammiano, the proud g@y man, who hated the children of citizens, learning about the 2nd amendment. He got himself elected to the San Francisco school board.

    With a stated purpose to eliminate the shooting teams in the schools. Unfortunately he was very successful at doing so.

    It’s good that someone is organizing these type of classes. But it’s also that the gatekeepers in our “Education Industrial Complex” have worked to prevent this type of independent thinking and action.

    And it is was President Eisenhower who warned us about this. In his final address to the nation. When he warned about the dangers of federal money being spent on education.

    • We still have shooting teams in HS in Michigan, mostly in the northern parts. One of my teacher friends couldn’t believe it until I brought her a local newspaper that had article on how the team was doing. This was at Charlston Heston Academe, perfect.

    • Take the time to read his paper “Gun Culture 2.0: …” linked in his list of class readings. It’s pretty fair and likely represents how he steers the class.

      • Agreed. Dr. Yamane’s presentation of the history, evolution, and multifaceted nature of gun culture provides some interesting points of view. This definitely got me thinking about some of the different subcultures within the larger community of 2A advocates. Overall, I think that such presentation of well-cited information helps to educate people and allows readers to form their own opinions. Additionally, when empowered with such information, people may be more likely to carefully consider their own opinions in addition to those of others with whom they do not necessarily agree. From my point of view, this nicely demonstrates the interconnected nature of the First and Second Amendments.

  10. If you bust off a tooth and you keep cutting the inside of your mouth because of it you can take a fingernail file and file it down so it ain’t so sharp.

  11. What ever happened to Fathers who ensure their progeny are taught how to properly and safely use firearms? You know, like it’s been done for over 250 years?

    • Many of them were replaced by the welfare industrial complex. Supported by libertarians liberals and the left. Who believe a single mother having 5 kids from 5 different men.

      Is simply a lifestyle choice. That should be supported by a large welfare state. They all long ago disagreed with the christians. Who said a father is necessary in the home.

  12. Liberal Gun Club?

    What do they do? I cannot see how anyone could be a liberal and be into guns? The very party you have aligned yourself with wants to take your guns away.

    • Not all Liberals are Leftists, in the classical sense of the words.

      • “Not all Liberals are Leftists, in the classical sense of the words.”

        “Conservatives” aren’t; neither are “Liberals”. Identifiers flipped quite some time ago. No current Liberal identifies as supporting liberty. (except liberty to eliminate political opponents, and members of the property-owning class; capitalists).

        • They also get excited about the liberty to murder innocent, defenseless babies.

          To be fair, there are a few who are interested in protecting the most vulnerable.

          “And they’ll tell you that to be progressive, you cannot under any circumstances advocate for the most marginalized among us. But we know that abortion is not progress. Abortion is a regress to the pseudo-morality of might makes right. And as progressives, we will not stand for it. We are reclaiming progressivism for life. Wherever you find fake progressivism bought with blood money, we will be there and we will be loud!” -Terrisa Bukovinac

          **DEAR MODERATION: Are we no longer allowed to post links without permission?**

    • In 21st century America. Liberals support a large welfare industrial complex.They are incapable of supporting liberty. Because they don’t believe in holding people accountable , with the responsibilities and consequences that go with having liberty.

    • The Liberal Gun Club is full.of people who believe in the private freedom to keep and bear arms, but vote for people who will ban and restrict guns in any way possible and appoint judges who believe there is no right to guns.

  13. Where were the so called “liberal gun owners” when the last gun store in San Francisco was forced to close???
    Where were they when the last public ranges were forced to close in the San Francisco area???

    But I do know they were working to make sure you could urinate and defecate in public, without fear being arrested. And they were also working to make sure, you could use drugs in public and discard your needles without fear of being arrested.

    Because using drugs in public and have Sex in public, those goals are far more important than the 2nd amendment.

  14. @Dude
    “To be fair, there are a few who are interested in protecting the most vulnerable.”

    Why be fair? In war, if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t winning.

  15. This is a college class? People pay for this?
    Wonder how a Rightwing school of gun use and safety would go over? I could teach this.

  16. What’s amazing is that you can add “-ology” to just about any word and everybody who wasn’t able to pass real science classes suddenly believes it’s a science.

  17. Does this “liberal gun club” member then vote for the Democrat politicians aiming to destroy the second amendment?

    • “Does this “liberal gun club” member then vote for the Democrat politicians aiming to destroy the second amendment?”

      You thinking there is some sort of conflict of interest? Listen, when all the people I don’t like are relieved of all their firearms*, I will gladly turn my gun in. Until then, I need to protect myself from “conservatives” who are determined to rule by deadly force.

      It is settled science, take guns away from society, and there is no need for guns in society; no guns, no gun crime.

      *We have police to protect us from the criminal element. If police don’t have to worry about the general public being a threat to police, they can focus on reducing crime. At that point, we will actually need fewer police, and we can concentrate on behavior intervention to change lives so as to continuously reduce over all crime in the nation. Better to change lives, rather than end lives.

      • Sam,
        That was sarcasm ,right?
        Because after the guns are gone, they will attack with clubs.
        Just like happened in gun controlled Noe,San Francisco.
        And the local police are ignoring it completly

  18. I wunder where they had their range session? I am unaware of a range in Winston Salem/Foresyth Co. but I am sure there is one.

  19. On one hand, I am surprised no one has tried to have him canceled or fired.
    On the other, good on him for the first class to be at the range.
    I have seen people who would not even touch a hand gun let alone shoot one.
    Seen one even flip out at the sight of one.

  20. Funny how our resident Leftist gun control freaks are absent from this thread?
    dacian, the DUNDERHEAD, MINOR Miner49er etc where are you???

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