The Gun Shop programme information
"You know the firearm is an inanimate object. It doesn't have the ability to be moral or immoral, it’s an amoral object. It doesn't have a will of its own. It’s the person behind the gun that has that will." Dave Fulton, Freedom Firearms
Nothing divides America more than their constitutional right to bear arms versus the merits of gun control. Fiercely debated in the run-up to the US election, this all-consuming preoccupation with firearms is often baffling to us Brits. To understand how and why guns are so central to American life, this Cutting Edge film has gained access to a small, family-run shop in Michigan, documenting the many and varied customers who come through the shop’s doors and revealing the relationship that everyday Americans have with their guns.
Freedom Firearms is a gun store with a firing range that runs gun safety classes in the city of Battle Creek. It is owned by brothers Joel and Jared Fulton. Along with Joel’s son Dave and saleswoman Starla they aim to offer a welcoming atmosphere to both established and brand new customers – some of whom are nervously seeking out their first firearm. They say they aim to be different to the more traditional stores they perceive as being intimidating. Starla says: "I'm a single, middle aged woman. I’ve been in other gun stores where I walk in and it is all male and …half the time they don’t say two words to me.” Unsurprisingly Joel and Jared feel strongly in favour of protecting the right to bear arms as does Dave, though he describes his politics as left-leaning, proclaiming a preference for Bernie Sanders over Donald Trump though when it comes to Hillary Clinton versus Trump he says: “I don’t trust either one of them. I just know one isn’t going to go after the guns."
The film explores the stories which have led their customers to the store – such as Gina, age 44 who had a gun pulled on her and her daughter during a road rage incident. She’s determined to get a Glock 43 to help her overcome feeling anxious following the incident and given the choice, is opting for the ‘Tiffany Blue’, over the ‘Natalie Pink’ or 'Hogue Pink.'
Student nurse Courtney, 28, is the mother of two young sons, Jadin, 9 and Holden, age 5. Driven by fears of events she sees on her social media she wants to arm herself and ultimately her sons should they be put in danger. She and Jadin compete to be the better shot on the range as she explains: "Jadin, he's nine and he is a very responsible kid. I know when the time comes he would take control head on and do what needed to be done to protect himself and his brother if Mum gets hurt." Jadin, who has plans 'A' through to 'D' should an intruder enters his house agrees: "I wanted to learn these plans because I didn’t want to get killed and make sure I’m safe cause if someone is going to break in that could be my last day, I’ll die. My Mum could die or my brother could get taken away, shot and killed. That’d probably be my end of the world. I'd probably cry forever, non-stop."
For Arniece and her daughter Kamberly, as black women their reasons for gun shopping are partly fears about racist attacks fuelled by the shooting of Philando Castile – a black man who was fatally shot after being pulled over by police in Minnesota. "I have a son, who right now he’s cute to America, but when he gets about 13 and he’s 6 feet tall they’re going to think he’s the threat," says Kamberly. Along with wanting to learn how to operate the firearm properly she wants Starla to tell her how best to inform a police officer she is carrying a weapon should she be pulled over.
Arniece and Kamberly also cite mass shootings as a motivating factor for arming themselves. The possibility of which feels all too close to home for the residents of Battle Creek following the apparently random shootings at an apartment complex, a car dealership, and outside a restaurant in nearby Kalamazoo in February this year. A 45 year-old Uber driver has been charged with injuring two people and claiming the lives of six – three of whom were residents of Battle Creek. For Gene Kopf, whose 14 year-old daughter was horrifically injured, the solution is not a ban: “The most unhelpful argument out there is take away all the guns because that instantly makes the other side and even the moderates who own weapons, it makes them just lock down. We have to accept that we have a problem and come together and work on a solution together without all the hate and rhetoric. I’m not pro-gun control or gun safety, I’m not gun banning, I’m anti-carnage.”
Battle Creek’s Chief of Police Jim Blocker believes the media are partly responsible for making people feel they are surrounded by violence and is conflicted about gun ownership. "I do understand purchasing a firearm, wanting to have one nearby to protect your family but I wonder do they have the capability in that kind of high stress scenario to accurately put rounds where they need to go or do I need to keep my kids close because who knows what’s going to happen?"
Going beyond the gun-toting stereotypes, this thought-provoking film explores all sides of the debate from the floor of a shop where the routines of purchase and selling are so recognisable but the products on sale are shockingly different.