'Shellshocked' director continues the conversation
Editor's note: We are reposting this November article about John Richie, Director of Shell Shocked, as this is the final week of the Kickstarter Campaign for his new documentary project 91%, which is about gun laws in the United States with a focus on background checks. The project has raised almost $35,000, but if the remaining $25,000 isn't achieved by Monday morning, all money will be returned to the donors. Here's what Richie has to say about his new film:
"I, like many people, feel unrepresented in the gun policy debate that is going on in our country today. I would never be for a ban on firearms, but I do believe that we need to do something to curtail the easy access of guns for people whose intent is to victimize or inflict harm to themselves or others. 91% is going to be an important film that is going to make people understand how the flaws in our current gun policies have a direct affect on our public safety. With Shell Shocked (airing nationally on PBS Feb. 17), we managed to make communities around the country rethink their approach to dealing with youth and gun violence in our urban communities. With your support, we can have a bigger impact with 91%." To donate, click here.
Filmmaker John Richie's next project will focus on the 91 percent of Americans who say they favor background checks for gun ownership.
In the past year or so, filmmaker John Richie has traveled the country screening Shellshocked, his award-winning documentary on the effects of gun violence on New Orleans teenagers. Along the way, he says, he began to notice some recurring patterns in his hundreds of conversations about gun control.
“For one thing, I realized that every single shooting that came up in conversation was directly related to people who shouldn’t have had access to these guns,” Richie says. “And I also found that, while you think that talking about gun control is so confrontational, as soon as you steer the conversation to background checks, it goes instantly from controversial to cordial.”
And therein lies Richie’s next film project, a documentary called 91 Percent.
The figure stems from a January 2013 national poll taken after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The survey found that 91 percent of Americans favor background checks on people buying guns.
“It was something I hadn’t really thought about,” Richie says. “When I heard how unregulated the gun laws are, and how easy it is to access guns, I just logically put the facts together. Most homicides are committed with illegal guns, so many homicides could be avoided if you could control the sale of guns.”
Richie finds that, like him, most people aren’t aware of just how easy it can be to buy guns illegally.
The 1968 Federal Gun Act, he explains, regulates who can buy guns and how: It banned sales to minors, felons or the mentally ill, as well as sales through the mail. The 1994 Brady Bill reinforced the earlier law.
But, as with most legislation, people soon found ways to get around the legal fine print.
“You can buy and sell guns online – it’s unbelievable,” Richie says. “When the Brady Bill was passed, the Internet was fairly new. So sales over the internet became a loophole – some websites actually advertise ‘no background check needed.’ Gun shows are another loophole. Private dealers selling out of their homes are another. Part of the problem with gun violence is that we can’t close these loopholes.”
With the vast majority of Americans in favor of background checks, it would seem an easy law to mandate. “Yet Congress can’t even get the votes to bring it up on the floor,” says Richie.
Much of that opposition can be traced to a powerful gun lobby that fights any crack in the door closed on gun control. But Richie believes that it’s an issue that Americans can get passionate about.
“People aren’t aware of the problem,” he says. “I want them to understand why it’s so easy to get guns, and I also want to show some very clear examples of how lack of background checks have failed people and communities.
“What happens if we don’t pass laws to regulate gun sales? We’ll live in a militarized zone.”
Richie has started researching and interviewing for his new project, and is raising funds for the film through a new KickStarter campaign, as well as applying for grants.
91 Percent will put faces on the issue, its director says. He recently traveled to California to talk to survivors of a 1999 shooting by a white supremist at a Jewish day school.
“Five kids were shot, 6 to 8 year olds,” says Richie. “The mother of one said that for years, her son would stand to one side when he opened a door, for fear of what might be on the other side.”
Richie plans to interview an array of people about their awareness and understanding of background checks. He’s already finding that perceptions can be skewed.
“When I stop someone and say, Hey, can I talk to you about gun control, they’ll keep walking and say no way. But if I ask, can I talk to you about background checks, they’ll say, sure.”
Some states, like Washington and California, have adopted laws to close gun-sale loopholes. Richie’s film will focus in part on the lack of federal oversight.
“In California, homicide rates are down by half in the two decades since they began regulating gun sales,” Richie says. “A lot of states have good gun laws. But you can go to adjoining states to get guns.”
The issue, Richie adds, is a public health one.
“People will tell me, well, criminals are going to get guns anyway. But never do we say, Hey, don’t pass that law because people are going to break it. People want this. It’s crazy.”
Richie hopes to show, through his new film, that groundswell of support for background checks. A Shreveport native who grew up hunting, he says he has no problem at all with the legal use or ownership of guns.
“This has nothing to do with the right to bear arms, or the size of the clip or what kind of guns are sold,” he explains. “I’d be very much against not allowing someone to own a good hunting rifle
“We just want to do what 91 percent of Americans say they want to do.”
A community screening of SHELL SHOCKED which is also a 91% fundraiser takes place night January 7th at the Family Center of Hope, 4422 St. Charles Ave.
Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]