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In mid-April HBO began airing a so-called documentary film titled “Gun Fight.” The film covers the battle between those who advocate for restrictions and bans on firearms and those who oppose such restrictions and bans.
The program is scheduled to air repeatedly throughout April and May and is also available for downloading at HBO.com (though I do not recommend that people do that, since doing so would enrich HBO and the film’s producers and so reward bad behavior.)
The producers and promoters naturally declare the film to be balanced and even-handed, and in fact, they do split the time relatively evenly. But not the message.
The film is ostensibly a peek behind the curtains of both camps. The scene behind one curtain is a carefully composed portrait of a few deeply committed, thoughtful and reasonable people trying hard to make the world a better place. Behind the other curtain the film portrays unreasonable fanatics desperately clinging to distorted perceptions of the Constitution who are consumed with petty rivalries and screaming disjointed – and sometimes alarming – messages.
On the anti-rights side the film features Virginia Tech survivor, Colin Goddard, who now works for the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence, and Paul Helmke, president of that group, along with a couple of other dedicated crusaders. On the pro-rights side, the primary spokesman is Richard Feldman, a former NRA lobbyist who wrote a book highly critical of NRA and its leadership, along with a cast of dozens of rights advocates – myself included – primarily speaking at pro-rights meetings and events.
From the Brady spokesmen the filmmakers took moving personal stories, impressive-sounding statistics and seemingly reasonable arguments presented in reasonable voices. From the pro-rights side the filmmakers took snippets of rallying cries, fragments of arguments and a good bit of pro-rights activists criticizing the NRA.
The differences are not entirely the fault of the producers and director, though. The two sides easily lend themselves to such depictions. There are only a handful of professional gun-control advocates and advocacy organizations, and they tend to work cooperatively – in part because they are all funded from the same sources, such as the Joyce Foundation and George Soros, and in part because all of the groups combined can only muster an active membership of something less than 100,000 people.
On the other hand, the rights movement is massive and unpolished, with many different groups and factions working in slightly different directions and utilizing very different strategies and tactics. The NRA alone boasts some four million members, while the Second Amendment Foundation, Gun Owners of America and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms each claim over a half million members and supporters. Then there are niche groups like Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, the Pink Pistols (representing gay, lesbian and trans-gendered people), Second Amendment Sisters and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (the primary firearms industry trade group).
The Firearms Coalition works with thousands of grassroots groups, local clubs and individual activists, coordinating efforts at the local, state and federal level. There are also hundreds and hundreds of affiliated and unaffiliated state associations and state and local grassroots groups working on their own agendas around the country.
With all of these groups in play, it is impossible to get them all singing the same song, much less doing so in 4-part harmony. Rights advocates tend to be strong willed and independent minded. They tend to be leaders more than followers, and they tend to speak their minds with candor and boldness, not diplomacy and caution. That means it is usually easy to find something they say that sounds a bit over the top or even scary; which is just what the producers and director of “Gun Fight” did. They taped three years worth of speeches at Gun Rights Policy Conferences, interviews at SHOT Shows and NRA Conventions and man-on-the-street interviews and carefully selected the parts that would be least persuasive and uncomfortable to the general public for inclusion in the film.
I was featured in two brief segments, one a presentation at a Gun Rights Policy Conference, the other a range session with a reporter. In both clips they used only the portions which seemed a little radical. What they failed to include from me or anyone else was one simple, critical statement of fact: Gun control does not work. There is not a single study demonstrating that any gun control law has ever reduced crime, reduced accidents or reduced suicides … anywhere … ever. But that fact runs counter to the film’s message.
Propaganda by any other name is still just lies and distortion. I hope that the majority of people who see this bit of propaganda from HBO will be smart enough to see the truth hidden behind the distortion and understand the truth. Advocating for the right to arms, for the right to self-defense, and the right to revolt against unconstitutional government can seem radical and scary, but advocating for helplessness, disarmament of victims and government control over all legal means of force … that’s really crazy.