Last night I watched a film that began with the words, ‘By the end of this film, twenty-two people will have been shot in the USA; six of them will die’.
Yes, I had chosen to watch a film about gun control in the USA, but I had not expected to feel so troubled within seconds of the film beginning.
Under The Gun is directed by Stephanie Soechtig (Fed Up, Tapped) and narrated by American journalist and author Katie Couric. Whilst I was completely aware of the subject matter, I was in no way prepared for how concerned this documentary would make me feel for the future of humanity.
The film looks at a number of the shootings that have occurred in the USA in recent years, including the Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Aurora cinema shooting, as well as showing upsetting footage of distressed family members who have been affected by these events.
We are first introduced to the family members of Daniel Barden, a seven-year-old boy who was shot and murdered by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook; we are made privy to the heart-wrenching reality of how people are directly affected by the gun laws that exist in the USA. Daniel’s father’s account is particularly touching, as he recalls being a stay-at-home dad and reflects on how he’ll never spend another day at home with his son again. Scenes where he rifles through old belongings, lovingly holding Daniel’s jacket to his face are sad but moving as the audience are forced to view the by-product of these laws firsthand.
After the Sandy Hook shooting, gun laws were altered in almost every single US state, but unfortunately two-thirds of these laws loosened restrictions on guns. Personally, this was one of the most shocking statistics and it really put the problem into perspective for me. How could an event in which twenty children and six adults were fatally shot, cause the US Government to make it easier for citizens to buy guns?
Statistics show that whenever a mass shooting occurs, there is a large increase in gun sales. People assume that the incident will cause the government to ban guns and therefore buy as many as they can. There are also a large number of people who think that owning guns makes them safer, but the film makes it clear that this is not the case. More guns does not mean more safety. Statistics show that it actually implies the opposite; there is more gun crime where there are more guns.
The film highlights how the problem comes down to a lack of knowledge; it is obvious that the vast majority of Americans are not clear on what a change in law means. They are convinced that it means they will no longer be allowed to buy guns, but this isn’t the case. The government is only pushing for extensive background checks to make sure that the wrong people are not getting their hands on firearms, but their efforts are being counteracted by the NRA.
The National Rifle Association are fearmongering citizens into thinking that the government wants an extreme change in policy, meaning that they won’t even be allowed in the same room as a gun, but that’s simply not the case. Their villainization of the government is what is causing people to perceive the change in policy incorrectly. If these people were educated on what the new gun laws would entail, I am sure there would be much less resistance. In fact, polls actually show that 74 per cent of NRA members agree that background checks should be performed before people can buy guns. They don’t become members to lobby against the government, despite what the association might imply, but mostly to receive discounts on guns.
Currently, the ‘background checks’ that occur take ninety seconds to complete. If something is flagged on your application — such as mental illness or a criminal record — the FBI have seventy-two hours to look into it. If they don’t, the background check is bypassed and the gun is sold anyway! The results of the background check are ignored, begging the question; what is the point in conducting the checks in the first place?
To put this worrying procedure into perspective even further, this is actually how the Charlestown Church mass shooter bought his gun. Dylann Roof’s application was flagged but the case was not reviewed within the designated seventy-two hour period and thus he was sold the gun anyway. He then went on to massacre nine parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17th, 2015.
The NRA are spreading the wrong information about the change in gun policy, and this information is then reinforced by public opinion. Wayne LaPierre (executive vice president of the NRA) and the association are lobbying against the government, arguing that it is within their constitutional right as citizens of the USA to own guns in the same way it is within their rights to drive a car. He obnoxiously proclaims, ‘the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun’ with confidence in every conference and interview he does, but what he fails to realise is that people are not simply divided into ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Humans are not that simple, and a good guy with a gun has the potential to turn into a bad guy with a gun, whether it’s triggered by anger, mental illness or something else.
It is unfortunate that we have grown accustomed to hearing about these mass shootings on the news, but the film examined more denominations of the problem than I knew existed.
I was aware that America had its issues with gun law. I was aware of the mass shootings that have occurred over the last year and the devastation that was left in their wake, but what I was not aware of was the unsolved cases that exist, nor the reasons why they remain unsolved.
Couric talks to a group of bereaved parents who have lost their children to gun crime. All members of the group are black and initially I didn’t realise that this was relevant to the problem. However, it soon became clear in their interviews that not only was there a gun problem in Chicago, but every parent there explained that their child’s death was unsolved because it had been automatically attributed to ‘gang activity’. The police are not even trying to solve these cases anymore, they’re simply throwing them away with a collection of other, similar cases which can (in their minds) be attributed to gang crime. The problem here is that their only evidence for it being gang activity is the colour of the victim’s skin. I found myself feeling increasingly appalled at how many problems were stemming from the big problem: the law.
In fact, throughout the entire film we are shown family after devastated family. Soechtig attempts to lift the lid on not only the gun laws that exist in the USA, but the emotional effects of them. How does access to these weapons affect the people?
We see the body count on television, but we don’t see that image of the father lovingly caressing his dead, seven-year-old son’s jacket. We don’t see the father who sells his own car and drives his son’s one instead because it’s all he has left of him. We don’t see the parents gathering with loved ones to talk about the successes of their daughter in her short lifetime.
With this in mind, I really struggle to understand how these laws can be the way they are. How can something so harmful be endorsed so much? When a terrorist attack occurs, the laws on bombs are not loosened. After 9/11, it was impossible to get through an airport without extreme security checks and passport control, but when a man shoots twenty-six people at a primary school, it’s easier to buy a gun.
The film likens gun law to a hypothetical airport which has one queue for people who want to go through security and another queue for people who don’t want to. Anybody can choose to stand in either queue, in the same way that people can essentially choose to be background checked or not, and we have already seen how these checks don’t really matter anyway.
Personally I felt sick with worry after watching this documentary, but it has made one thing clearer; in a country where anybody can walk into a shop, bypass a background check and buy two hundred guns in one go, the notion that twenty-two people have died during my screening of the film feels a whole lot more realistic.