gun control

Talking about mass killings, almost every semester

I’ve been teaching at Le Moyne since the fall of 2005. Minus one semester of sabbatical, that’s 15 semesters. If you count the recent Boston Bombings, I have led spontaneous sociological/criminological reflections on mass killings (usually shootings) that occurred during 10 of those 15 semesters. If you count conversation about Jared Loughner’s crime which happened immediately prior to the spring 2011 semester, then it’s 11 of 15 semesters. Most of those conversations were only a few minutes long because the shootings didn’t capture national attention like some others. Some semesters had more than one, or shootings which animated, unplanned conversations taking up an entire class. I recall that our conversations about Nidal Malik Hasan‘s shooting at Fort Hood lent itself to applying ideas we’d been discussing in Sociology of Religion, and that Seung-Hui Cho’s Virginia Tech shooting was particularly frightening for college students. I also note that we barely talked at all about Kurt Myers’ Herkimer shooting that took place just 70 or so miles from here, and that the ambush of firefighters in Webster (just 70 or so miles the other direction) happened in between semesters.

My approach to these discussions is usually to tell the students that they are educated adults and have a responsibility to think carefully about these events. I’ll tell them I don’t have any clear answers, but that together we can think of the right questions to consider if we want to achieve some understanding, and maybe work with others to end these sad events. They sometimes go a little like this post of mine after Newtown, CT. Tomorrow I’ll lead a less spontaneous, but hastily planned discussion about Boston. We’ll start the conversation with this essay comparing the bombings there with other crimes like Columbine. Maybe next time there is a mass shooting to talk about I’ll use this from the The Chronicle. But, I hope not because no matter how powerful these classroom experiences can sometimes be, I don’t want to continue having these spontaneous discussions.


Edit (4/25/2013): Add this to our discussion of Boston. A danger of the spontaneous conversations is the relatively high likelihood of ignoring the context of the high profile shootings, which includes our violent, racist, xenophobic, American culture.

Student Suggested Readings

On the role of sibling ties in the Boston bombing

Parents Deny Sons’ guilt and accuse U.S. of plot


Gun values, gun shows, and the sacred

Yes, this is a post about gun shows, but first I’ll write a bit about my values when it comes to guns. If you like and use guns, then you probably don’t share my values. Still, I hope you’ll read past the beginning to see my sociological reflection on gun shows that I think treats a different set of values fairly.

My Piece

I don’t like guns. I know and respect people who like, own, and shoot guns. I assume that most gun owners are responsible, and most guns are not used to hurt people. Realistically, I would be very happy with restrictions that forbid private ownership of guns and ammo that are designed so that relatively unskilled shooters can shoot and kill a lot of people very quickly. I’d like gun laws that protect recreational use. I know the second amendment isn’t about recreational use, but the “security of a free state.” I’m not scared of our government, and instead I’ll use the rest of the U.S. Constitution that allows me to participate in governing my free state. After all, we are that government of which so many of us are afraid. Some might call me naïve for believing that, but if you think you can use the current individual gun ownership rights reading of the second amendment to maintain a militia that would be effective against the U.S. government’s historically unmatched war machine, then you are the naïve one. (more…)

Making Sense of the Shootings

Friday’s attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT is difficult to comprehend. Nonetheless, a social science that can’t use its tools to begin to make sense of the act and the political and social response to it is not worth pursuing. Since 11 am on Friday, this is about the only issue to which I’ve given serious thought. I’ve watched hours of television coverage, mostly on CNN, I’ve read news articles and watched countless relevant tweets scroll by, and I’ve tweeted a lot about it myself. I’m fortunate to have very thoughtful friends from multiple disciplines, and we spent some time Saturday night discussing the shootings and the response. I’d guess my experiences are similar to many others who are trying to make sense of what is undeniably awful news.