By Sofia Jesus
The documentary film starts with a disturbing picture: a man posing with a baby girl in his arms, while holding a gun. The most disturbing part, however, comes next, when the man on the picture appears — much older — saying how that picture makes him feel: “Powerful. Protecting. That is my freedom.”
Gun Nation is a documentary film directed, produced and filmed by award-winning photographer and film-maker Zed Nelson. Approximately 18 years ago Mr Nelson photographed and registered several Americans’ feelings towards the gun control issue in the United States in a book called Gun Nation. In the documentary with the same name, the photographer goes back to his photographic subjects to ask them about things like why have 500,000 people died due to firearms in the United States since they last met.
Participants in the documentary — men and women; children who grew into young adults… — mainly have kept their views from two decades ago. Among the arguments to resist gun control laws was the idea that one must respect the rights and freedoms of law-abiding citizens who choose to own a gun just because they want to protect themselves, their families and their communities.
Most participants in the documentary — gun owners, gun sellers… — look fierce and proud. Then, there is the father of one of the teenagers killed in Columbine’s high school mass shooting in 1999 — he holds back the tears, but still looks lost and helpless. That probably wouldn’t have happened if the teacher had a gun and knew how to use it, one lady says at one point. I sighed, as sentences like these kept echoing in my mind after I finished watching the film — echoing as loud as the sound of guns being shot at shooting camps throughout the documentary.
My views on this issue have not changed after this film — I still believe gun control laws are urgently needed, though I also think the problem is much wider than that and can only be solved through education too. The good guy-bad guy dichotomy couldn’t be more dangerous. But the documentary did surprise me: seeing how little changed in 20 years made me realise how little probably will in the future. And that is just sad.
Gun Nation was commissioned as part of the Guardian Bertha documentary partnership. According to the Guardian, the project “aims to tell international stories with global impact”. You can keep an eye on their releases here. I will.