Okay, I'm suffering from that feeling that I haven't posted in long enough that what I post now must be GOOD! BRILLIANT, even! Insightful, witty, thoughtful, evocative!!!!, and folks, feeling such pressure is not conducive actually to producing such a post. So I'm going to spew a few thoughts on the screen and call it a day. You have been warned.
So, the topic of gunners seemed to raise some interest. Here's my take:
A gunner is one of those students - the ones who ALWAYS have their hand in the air, ALWAYS have something to say, and LOVE to hear themselves talk. I was wondering where the term gunner comes from, exactly, and how it took on this meaning. The OED doesn't include the slang use of gunner (shocking, I know), so I can't tell you when it entered the lexicon in this form. The Urban Dictionary is no help on etymology, and lifts its definition pretty directly from Wikipedia, which doesn't give etymology either. What's amusing, though, is that if you plug "definition of gunner" into Google, the first thing that comes up is "a frequent shooter," which is perfect, and also apparently comes from basketball. (Maybe everyone out there knows this already? Excuse my ignorance of sports terminology if you do!)
So, a gunner is someone who is always shooting off at the mouth. I find it interesting that some people out there (how's that for a concrete reference? this is my sense from reading law student blogs, but I have no specific link, sorry) seem to consider almost anyone who ever opens their mouth in class or asks a question to be a gunner. (Apparently asking questions in the last 5 minutes of class is really bad form.) Under such a reading, Hermione Grainger would be a gunner (and I suspect the Slytherins do all see her as such). (I love using Harry Potter to talk about real life.) People on this end of the spectrum advise basically ignoring anything that your classmates say, as they don't know any more than you do, and you're not paying to learn from them, but from the prof.
More commonly, however, people do make distinctions between valuable contributions from other students, and gunners. (For one thing, I'd answer the objection at the end of the last paragraph by saying that maybe the prof is actually using the student to make hir point, and therefore you should in fact pay attention. The idea that you can ignore anything your classmates say implies that nothing profs do has anything to do with what a student answers.)
There are lots of discussions/complaints about gunners out there on law student blogs (and probably elsewhere). My own view of gunners, though, is that it's not about whether you answer frequently or not - it's how you answer.
In short, if your answer includes the words "clearly," "obviously," or any variation on those words, or any of their synonyms - you are a gunner.
This doesn't even mean that you have to be wrong to be a gunner - you might be right.
But for me, what makes an answer intolerable is the absolute blind confidence that of COURSE there is one side to the question and OF COURSE you know it and OF COURSE anyone could see it, and that if somone doesn't see it, that person is clearly an idiot.
This isn't to say that there aren't other ways that a student can answer annoyingly. (Trying to put the facts of a case "in your own words" and in the process paraphrasing them into something completely wrong is not fun to hear.) It's also not to say that hemming and hawing and undermining your answer and being tentative is necessarily better (and yes, I hate to say it, but it's mostly female students I've seen doing this, so far). But I don't think those problems are the sign of the gunner.
So for me, the key to being a gunner is arrogance.
Now, my experience may not be the same as other students'. First, we've had a whole three weeks of school; we may all still be enthusiastic enough and newbie enough that I haven't seen true gunnerism yet. Second, the idea of the gunner as someone who dominates the discussion and takes the class off in completely irrelevant directions doesn't seem to fly here, since my profs seem consciously to avoid calling on the same people all the time, and have no qualms at all about saying, "That's really interesting, but it's not relevant to this point, so ask me about it after class." So maybe in other contexts, other kinds of gunners arise.
I may also be lucky, because I haven't seen very many gunners yet - again, because my profs seem pretty good at shutting them down. And while my classmates are all extremely smart and probably pretty competitive, the atmosphere here is pretty laid back and collegial. So maybe lack of a strongly competitive institutional culture helps reduce the frequency of gunnerism.
The final thing I wanted to mention was that I am honestly surprised that MA/PhD programs do not use the term gunner. Because arrogance? Such programs possess it in spades. I have been in grad classes with plenty of people who dominated discussion, who loved to hear themselves talk, who name-dropped incessantly, and basically did everything they could to declare LOOK AT MEEEEEE I'M SMART!!!!!! (Haven't we ALL been in class with gunners?) It may be that the specific grading contexts of med school and law school are necessary, not so much to produce the gunner, but to produce such a visceral reaction against them. I'm assuming here that med school, like law school, grades on a curve, so the quality of the work your classmates produce is directly related to the grades that you achieve. Grad school doesn't do that. Yes, it's irritating if the class blowhard does better than you in a given class. But you know that your grade is not in any way determined by what the class blowhard gets. So perhaps the grading curve has helped focus and articulate law/med students' rage against their annoying classmates in the form of labeling them a gunner? And conversely, perhaps those who gun are compelled to do so by their need to set themselves apart from their peers?
On that note, I think I need a cookie to fortify my torts reading. Thank god my hipster coffeeshop has stopped playing smooth jazz.