An Education in Violence: Teaching and Learning to Kill in Central Texas
Harel Shapira, Department of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin
Research Grant, 2015
This research examined a relatively new and growing population: people who have obtained concealed handgun licenses and carry their guns with them on a regular basis. Drawing on field work at gun schools and in-depth interviews with concealed handgun license holders, the research examined two aspects of gun ownership that have been given insufficient attention in existing scholarship: first, the process by which people are socialized into gun ownership; and second, the embodied, everyday practice of gun ownership.
The research showed that becoming a gun owner involves a learning process in which both the mind and body are trained to feel comfortable with, and need, guns. Cognitively, it means developing interpretative frames for thinking about guns, safety, and violence. Specifically, one must learn to think that they need guns, that guns are safe, and that killing another human being can sometimes be a moral action.
Gun owners train their bodies to feel comfortable with guns through habit formation, making the experience of holding, shooting, and carrying a gun so normal that the violence contained within the gun is rendered banal.
While one must become ideologically comfortable with guns, a person must also learn to be physically comfortable with guns, and ultimately have positive experiences holding, shooting, and carrying guns. Although such embodied experiences are enabled by the above interpretative frames, they are not directly produced by them and require physical training. Gun owners train their bodies to feel comfortable with guns through habit formation, making the experience of holding, shooting, and carrying a gun so normal that the violence contained within the gun is rendered banal. These learned interpretive frames and the embodied pleasures that gun owners experience with guns are co-constitutive, so that the interpretive frames enable and are simultaneously enabled by a set of embodied experiences, and vice-versa.
Shapira, H. and Simon, S.J. (2018) “Learning to Need a Gun.” Qualitative Sociology 41(1): 1-20.