November 5, 2015
By Renée Peck
New Orleans filmmaker John Richie has been traveling the country, talking to people about gun safety for his upcoming documentary 91%, about background checks for gun purchasers.
Who are you talking to and how did you find them?
The people I’ve been talking to are people who have been affected by shootings, and the guns involved were gotten without a background check.
When I was doing research for this film I’d go to activist events in D.C. and California and meet people who have become active in lobbying for better gun laws. I got to talking to different people and more than half of the people at these events have been directly involved in mass shootings.
You’d meet people and find people who had very compelling stories and there was something moving about the fact that the event that affected their lives had gotten them to go all the way to D.C. to really try to get better gun laws passed.
What is the film’s focus?
One of the things we wanted to do was really test this statistic, this 91 percent who believe in background checks. If you were to look at the way the issue is portrayed in the media, you would think people are really divided on this issue.
One of the things that was really interesting about interviewing the NRA members was that whenever I’d ask if I could interview them, they’d say sure, but you probably won’t like what I have to say. We ended up interviewing about 13 people and 11 were on the same page that I’m on. I do believe in your Second Amendment right to own a gun, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t regulate guns to make sure people don’t use one in a way that would harm other people.
Why don’t people want to talk about this?
It’s a very emotional issue for a lot of people. Even talking about the idea that maybe we need to regulate guns better will drive some people to where they don’t want to have the conversation at all.
Here we are in the United States and there are just as many guns on the streets as there are people. Even people who are concerned about their rights to own guns agree that there needs to be some gun regulation. That people with a proven history of violence, people that are incompetent, should not be able to own guns. This is a point we agree on. This is where we need to be leading the conversation … much more into the public health area.
The problem with the way the law stands now is that there are background checks on gun sales at places like a sporting goods store, but there’s not one person to person. If I had a gun I could sell you that gun without ever asking for an ID or looking into your history.
Richie talked to people involved in half a dozen mass shootings, including parents and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But he says that perhaps the most moving person he talked to was a mom in Salt Lake City named Carolyn Tuft.
Her and her daughter went to buy Valentine Day cards at a mall, and a young man that was 17 – obviously not old enough to purchase a gun – came in shooting. He killed 6 people including Carolyn’s daughter. … She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and she’s slowly dying of lead poisoning (of the gunshot pellets that cannot be removed).
Closer to home, Richie talked to social aid and pleasure club president Ed Buckner and journalist Debra Cotton about the 2012 Mother’s Day shooting in New Orleans, in which 19 people were wounded.
The saddest thing about that was that ‘s one of our traditions, and our celebration of Mother’s Day, and the parade was interrupted by two young men who shot up the crowd. They shot 19 people …… These two young men who had prior felonies had no problems getting their hands on guns. It’s one of many examples in the film of people getting guns through these loopholes.
Louisiana has some of the most lax laws. I believe we are 48th in gun violence – we might even be more than that. You can look at states that have strong strict gun prevention laws and their amount of shootings has been reduced greatly, and then there are states like ours that not only have relaxed gun laws but have passed legislation that makes it easier to get guns and we continue to be at the very top of states where you have firearm injury and fatality.
So it’s a matter of public safety?
Your right to have a gun with no regulation whatsoever should not trump my right to be able to walk along my streets or worry about my kids as far as growing up and getting shot. At a certain point there has to be a certain amount of give and take on this issue. I don’t know any gun violence prevention advocate who’s talking about banning guns. But that’s the narrative that groups like the NRA have created. They won’t give an inch for the betterment of our public safety and there’s something very wrong with that.
What can we do to get universal background checks?
Obviously, there’s the whole point of going out and voting. The only way that you can make Congress start listening to people instead of lobbyists is to hold Congress accountable. Voter turnout for the past several decades has been so low and that’s what gives power to the lobbyists.
One of the misnomers is that this makes it hard for law-abiding citizens to get guns. The reality is that a common background check takes less than 30 minutes…. It’s actually very easy still, with a background check system, to get a gun as long as you’re a law-abiding, competent person.
Do you have a gun?
I do. I have a 16-gauge shotgun that I use for duck hunting… If you grew up in north La there’s a great probability that you do have a firearm. This issue has never been to me about banning guns. It has always been a public health issue.
Want to see the movie? There will be a free test screening of 91%: A Documentary About Guns in America, sponsored by the the Louisiana Center for Children's Rights, Moms Demand Action and the National Council of Jewish Women, at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9, at Cafe Istanbul, 2372 St. Claude Avenue. A discussion and question period with filmmaker John Richie will follow.
The Gun Report is a series of conversations about gun safety in New Orleans sponsored by NolaVie and 91%, John Richie's upcoming documentary about background checks for gun purchasers. We want you to join the conversation with personal anecdotes and commentary. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at email@example.com.