I had the great fortune of being included in “Time” magazine’s Guns in America, recently nominated for an Emmy. This feature used 245 people, their pictures and their words, mine included, to start a discussion about the gun issue. The artist, JR, captured all of our pictures and put them together in a mural that is now touring the country and was the fold-out cover of this special edition of “TIME.” Then, they recorded our own statements of what we thought about guns; with no coaching of what to say, and unedited.
The intent was to hear from both sides of the gun issue: why people are pro-gun and/or why people are anti-gun. But, did anyone really listen to all of the voices? I did, because I was curious if there was some common ground in the depth of the discussion. In my opinion, there is one main common denominator, fear. Fear from pro-gun people that they will be victims of violent crime, and fear of anti-gun people who fear they will be victims of violent crime. In my analysis, the clear issue is violent crime, especially in economically depressed communities.
As I charted the participants’ statements, I found three main themes: Pro-Gun participants are focused on safe, responsible gun use; Anti-Gun participants are very organized in their talking points; and the biggest takeaway I had, was learning of the conditions some of our fellow Americans live in each and every day. I also heard the participants speak of fear. On all sides of the discussion, there appeared a common sentiment of fear, as some participants recounted horrific stories of violent crime. I wish people could listen to the stories – strip out the anti-gun/pro-gun dialogue and hear the real discussion of underserved communities.
The harsh reality is that our country needs to find economic solutions to neighborhoods where Emeara Burns, 20-years old, from St. Louis Story Stitchers explains, “It’s survival of the fittest.” She asks for us, “as a people,” to do better, care more and think better about ourselves and others. It is unfortunate that the discussions continue to be about the symptom of violence, instead of finding solutions for our underserved communities.
In truth, I am an advocate for gun safety, as well as being pro-gun, pro-2ndAmendment and law abiding. However, this didn’t make me biased against listening to what people said. “Time” recorded 245 people’s statements (unedited). You can listen for yourself at https://time.com/guns-in-america/, below is my interpretation of what they said.
The participants who were pro-gun commented on the ability to keep themselves and their family protected from “evil.” Dianna Mueller, a police officer and competitive shooter, sums up the majority of the pro-gun comments. Diana talks about being your own first responder, guns being a great equalizer for women, hunting for food and being responsible gun owners. She also talks about the frustrations of being part of the gun community who is bullied and censored when the industry is promoting safety, safe storage and youth education through the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
The participants who were anti-gun are organized and very deliberate in their talking points. One young man, Emiliano Calvo Alcaniz, 17-years old, is a member of a student organization, “Students Against Gun Violence,” and helps with StudentsMarch.org. He opens his dialogue with a statement that they deliberately chose the words for the name of their club as “Against Gun Violence” because, as he stated, people can’t argue for gun violence, but they can argue against gun control. However, if you listen to his entire conversation, his group’s agenda is to rally for gun control. The other key theme of the anti-gun participants was fear for their own safety. A common talking point, stated by nearly 15% of the anti-gun participants, blamed organizations who represent gun owners and promote education and safe responsible gun use and storage. Additionally, anti-gun participants were made up of mostly youth (ages 7 to 25). Of the anti-gun participants, 58% were youth between the ages of 7 to 25, compared to only 14% of pro-gun participants being between the ages of 10 to 25.
I was most impacted by hearing stories from St. Louis. There are several stories from an organization called the St. Louis De-escalation Centers. This organization helps people resolve individuals’ conflicts without violence. I encourage you to listen to the words of Joy Camp, Joe Robinson, James Clark and Carl Smith. They talk about how some youth, and particularly in St. Louis, black youth have generations of violence, and aren’t taught how to resolve conflict over the littlest of issues – such as tennis shoes. They have been successful in their efforts to prevent gun violence. Words from members of St. Louis Story Stitchers, where Emeara Burns mentioned previously are from, really opened my eyes to the hardships youth in underserved communities face. I agree with Emeara: “We as a Nation, we as a people, just have to do better by supporting each other and providing for each other.”
I hope Guns in America wins the Emmy, more people listen to the statements of the participant, and will agree, the problem is not guns in America; the problem is violence and crime in America, and especially in her most economically deprived communities. I don’t have the solution, but we must properly define the real problem of violent crime to find a solution, or we will never “do better.”
For more pictures from the making of this iconic installation please visit: https://www.flickr.com/gp/142087090@N04/65WvQV
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