Some years ago, my father came to the conclusion that he should own a gun. NRA magazines soon littered the coffee table; trips to “the range” became a regular feature of Sunday afternoons; spats between mom and dad over guns made dinner table conversations livelier than usual. To this day, he has a genuine penchant for gun culture.
Fast-forward two years and I am here at Yale, where guns are all but absent from the conversation on campus. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find something on campus considered as gauche as gun enthusiasm. The liberal atmosphere of Yale, one suspects, puts something of a damper on dissenting views about divisive topics like gun control. But that does not mean there is a universal consensus about gun control on campus. Gun culture is still very much alive among certain pockets of students, and its adherents are not afraid of making their gun love heard.
Exhibit A is the Yale Skeet and Trap Club, which, in its on-and-off existence stretching back more than a century, has devoted itself to the sport of skeet shooting. The club, which actually competes as a team, is one of the finest of its sort in the nation and has a storied history to boot. Co-captains Molly Emerson, DC ’13, and Tim Wescott, DC ’14, both said there is a great sense of tradition embedded in the team. “[Skeet and Trap] is a very historic part of Yale,” Emerson said. “Our team is one of the oldest clubs here.” Although the team’s primary focus is competition, she said its members also seek to “carry on the tradition.”
Above all, Wescott said, it’s about having fun—as in any sport. “The fun part, for me at least,” he said, “is releasing all of your pent-up stress and frustration on a Friday afternoon with your buddies by just annihilating things with a really, really powerful weapon. That’s just the ultimate catharsis.”
There is also a Pistol and Rifle Club on campus. According to president Cecilia Sanchez, BK ‘13, the club offers opportunities in which “the Yale community can learn to shoot in a safe, supervised environment.” The Pistol and Rifle Club is, however, wary of getting involving in the messier and more controversial aspects of gun culture; the emphasis for them is purely recreational and competitive. When questioned about the national debate on gun control, the Pistol and Rifle Club declined to comment.
Skeet and Trap similarly holds no official political affiliation as a club. However, Wescott conceded, “[Skeet and Trap] doesn’t entirely consist of those of the conservative persuasion, but it’s certainly heavily oriented towards conservatism. That just naturally happens when you bring people together through guns.” This bringing of people together through guns might seem likely to alienate other students. Yet Emerson commented that the attitude towards Skeet and Trap she most encounters is not hostility but surprise: “People usually respond, ‘Hey, that’s something cool. That’s something different.’”
Along with recreational familiarity with guns, geographical origin seems to play a determining role in predicting a student’s stance on gun control. Texas native Truett Davis, PC ’16, reinforces the notion that the two are closely linked: “I’m very liberal,” he explained, “but [a need for] gun control is something I don’t understand, just because I’ve always been exposed to guns, so it’s never been a question of safety.” Jacob Stai, a member of the Independent Party, the YPU’s largest party, offered another example. “Yale is certainly a lot more anti-gun than where I’m from,” said Stai, a member of the Independent Party, the Yale Political Union’s largest party. Stai comes from northern Wisconsin, a region he characterized as largely pro-gun and relatively rural. Stai attributed the differences in opinion to the hunting culture that predominates back home. When I asked whether origin influences if people are for and against guns, he readily answered yes.
When I asked what he thinks the general attitude towards guns is on campus, Stai swiftly responded that it was almost entirely negative. He then conceded that this was an “over-characterization” and that there are other important factors besides origin: “It also makes a difference,” he added, “if you’re a vegetarian, or [what] your opinion on animal rights [is] in general.” But origin doubtless plays some role in determining people’s views towards guns, so it’s notable that a large proportion of Yalies comes from metropolitan areas, where people are likely to have different attitudes towards gun control issues than, say, Stai’s neighbors in rural Wisconsin.
As both shooting groups on campus are relatively removed from politics, the gun control debate seems arise mainly in YPU debates. Various parties have taken up the mantle of continuing this debate. Still, gun control seems to get short shrift in comparison to other, more hot-button issues. Within the Independent Party, Stai said, the attitude is generally one that can be characterized as “out of sight, out of mind.” He added that gun control is an issue secondary in importance to the economy and other social liberties in the election, and so doesn’t receive as much attention. When discussed, though, he said there is little in the way of agreement. Members’ views range from what he called, “the Republican line of minimizing all control,” to a more traditionally liberal, “ban ’em all” attitude.
Though many Yale students might not realize it, there is a small but established community of recreational gun users among the student body. So while debate on gun policy remains confined, for the most part, to fairly insular YPU debates, perhaps it will soon find a place at our own dinner tables.