It has been a devastating month for us reeling from gun violence in the US. The most recent wave of horrifying shootings targeting Black Americans and young children has many asking, “When will this end?” Yet, the topic of gun control in the US still remains taboo for many. As with many issues, we look to documentaries to give us a deeper understanding of how we got here and what’s next.
This blog explores eight documentaries that discuss the topic of guns and America, taking a specific look at the activists on the frontlines fighting back against gun violence and pushing for comprehensive gun reform.
After Parkland (Emily Taguchi & Jake Lefferman)
The world watched in horror after a mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida took the lives of 17 young students and school workers in 2018. What it sparked afterwards was one of the most powerful student-led movements in modern American history. In After Parkland, we follow some of these students, as well as the parents of those lost, as they pick up the pieces and ask a nation what really matters more: human lives or assault weapons.
The Armor of Light (Abigail Disney & Kathleen Hughes)
Many were quick to point out the hypocrisy this month of how many in America oppose abortion on the grounds of supporting human life but remain silent on the issue of gun violence against children. This idea was explored in the Emmy Award-winning The Armor of Light through the story of Evangelical minister Reverend Rob Schenck, who challenges his largely conservative following on being both pro-gun and pro-life.
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At the Ready (Maisie Crow)
It is unjust to explore the topic of gun violence in America without also addressing the state-sponsored gun violence that plagues Black and Brown communities by law enforcement and ICE. At the Ready takes a hard look at this issue through the process of indoctrination and training high school students undergo to prepare for these careers. It is especially complex as many of the students being trained are from the communities targeted the most by ICE and law enforcement. The film was a 2017 and 2019 Enterprise Documentary Fund grantee.
Where to Watch: HBO Max
Come & Take It (Ellen Spiro & PJ Raval)
On a much lighter note than the rest of the documentaries on this list, Come & Take It shines a light on the catchy #CocksNotGlocks movement. From the perspectives of activist Jessica Jin and other women college students, the film takes a deep dive into The Great Texas Dildo Revolt, in which students brandish not weapons but sex toys, to protest that in Texas you could legally open carry handguns on college campuses but not dildos.
Where to Watch: Projectr
Newtown (Kim A. Snyder)
It has never been more important to revisit and learn from the 2012 Sandy Hook Massacre, which took the lives of 20 elementary school children. In the devastating documentary Newtown, we get a glimpse into the lives of those who lost their child to senseless gun violence—something no parent should have to experience. The film also highlights the transformation of these parents into full-time advocates for gun reform. The film was a 2015 Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund grantee.
Speaking Is Difficult (AJ Schnack)
Speaking Is Difficult serves as a haunting chronology of mass shootings in America. The documentary uses chilling police radio recordings from actual shootings paired with video of the locations where they took place to create a macabre portrait of the US. Speaking Is Difficult is also a living film that started as a 14-minute short film in 2016 but, as mass shootings continued, the filmmakers have continued to add more to the ever-evolving piece.
Where to Watch: The New Yorker
US Mothers Fighting Against Gun Violence (Christiana Botic and Lauren Santucci)
Gun violence in America isn’t just highly publicized mass shootings but an everyday struggle for some to get guns out of their communities. The media often ignores the struggles of Black communities, in particular, like those in the short film US Mothers Fighting Against Violence. The documentary chronicles the story of Black mothers in Columbus, Ohio as they endure the devastating impact of losing children to gun violence and try to raise awareness for the issue.
Where to Watch: Al Jazeera
Whose Streets? (Sabaah Folayan)
Another documentary that explores state-sponsored gun violence, Whose Streets? follows the powerful activists behind the movement against police brutality. While protesting the senseless murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, activists protesting face their own reckoning with the unchecked power of the state to maintain racism and “order.” Viewers get to watch first-hand how important it is to include law enforcement and the National Guard in the call to ban military grade weapons. The film was a 2015 Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund grantee.