A drastic rise in mass shootings has ripped across the United States in recent years, and it’s a topic that hits hard in tonight’s sobering documentary on Rialto, UNDER THE GUN. Despite a growing body count and the chorus of outrage that comes with it, America has largely failed to respond – and director Stephanie Soechtig’s film goes a little further to show us exactly why.
As the parent of an eight-year-old, the opening scenes featuring the aftermath of Sandy Hook and its victims hits hard. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six adult staff members. The legacy of the second-deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history is profound, and the actions of the mentally ill, 20-year-old recluse will surely scar a generation and all those who came into contact with the crime. The distress you feel while watching the parents of the victims in the wake of the disaster has been a carefully chosen opener for the film, which essentially gives a human face to a crisis that is scaring the conscience of a nation.
Although it could be called a wide-ranging documentary on guns, mass shootings, and the activism of ordinary citizens, the film’s focus narrows quickly on how the firearms industry's lobbying group, the National Rifle Association, has developed a stranglehold on the politics of the issue. However, Soechtig is careful to draw a distinction between the lobbying org’s pretty unpleasant leadership figures, who have close ties to gun manufacturers and actively work to block the most common-sense attempts at gun regulation, and their rank-and-file members, everyday Joes who are presented as more supportive of responsible measures (like background checks) in national polls during vox pop-style interviews. These aren’t gun nuts and profiteers but rather men and women who see gun ownership as their right, and part and parcel of protecting their families.
UNDER THE GUN’s ability to cut through political talking points to focus on facts and firsthand accounts is definitely its strength, as well as the characters that the director has chosen to engage with. Particularly compelling is the narrative featuring former Congresswoman and gun-violence survivor Gabrielle Giffords, and Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts - who was motivated to action by the situation in Sandy Hook and unwittingly sparked a grassroots movement on Facebook. “When women get involved in this country, things get done” says Watts, who utilises what she calls the “power of moms” to bring about awareness, and hopefully also change.
Some snippets also really hit home, like the representative of Al-Qaeda talking about how easy it is to buy a gun in the US, and the hard fact that most mass shootings are related to domestic violence issues, making them just maybe avoidable if the perpetrators are caught and arrested for earlier crimes against their partners and ex-partners. Oh and you know how when you’re in the States it feels like there is a Starbucks or McDonald’s on every corner? Well the country actually has more gun stores than Starbucks and McDs combined.
I appreciate the way that Soechtig has cleverly attempted to move away from the always polarising, seemingly never-ending conversations about 2nd Amendment rights, by calling for a willingness to take a harder look at the reasons why people engage in violent gun behaviour. While UNDER THE GUN is firmly on the side of stronger gun regulations, it’s not blatantly anti-gun. There’s an attempt to be as inclusive as possible, and time taken to explain why statements uttered often by the opposition - that the then-Obama government leaders wanted to take away everyone’s guns, that the only way to prevent gun violence is to own a gun, etc etc - are easier said than defended with factual information.
But for me it's the aforementioned stories of those who've lost loved ones, and some of the chilling footage shown from these and subsequent events, that are the most powerful moments. Finishing on a montage of victims and then how you as an individual can help make a change, UNDER THE GUN doesn't shy from the complex nature of the debate but it also urges you, the viewer, to get the hell up and do something about it.
UNDER THE GUN premieres on Thursday 27 July at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel.
Watch the trailer here
Click here to remote record