The opening title card of The Gun Shop
, a 2016 documentary produced for Channel 4’s Cutting Edge series in the U.K., states that there are more than 56,000 places to purchase a gun in America. What follows is a balanced look at firearm ownership and gun violence, using a single shop in Battle Creek, Mich., as a microcosm of the divisive American gun debate.
The Gun Shop
was coproduced by Stowe resident David Rocchio, founder and president of Stowe Story Labs
. That nonprofit group is devoted to facilitating the work of aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers.
“The reason I wanted to make this film is, I like guns, and I like my local gun shop, but I also get that we need to really do something about handgun violence in America,” Rocchio says. “And the way the system now approaches these issues is through opposite camps. I just wanted to start a dialogue, and the way you start a dialogue is to listen.”
The film will be screened on Tuesday, April 4, at Stowe Cinema 3 Plex
, followed by a Q&A session with Rocchio and the film’s director, John Douglas. Proceeds from the event will benefit Stowe Story Labs and the Helen Day Art Center
, which serves as the venue for Stowe Story Labs’ fall narrative lab.
“It’s not just a fundraiser,” says Rachel Moore, Helen Day's executive director. “I think it’s also providing this great cultural content for the town, so that we’re able to provide these really relevant issues in the form of visual language.”
Though conceived by a Vermonter, The Gun Shop
was executive produced by James Rogan, a Londoner. Douglas, who is also based in London, thinks it helped to bring an impartial outsider’s view to a distinctly American issue.
“I’d had conversations with [co-owners] Joel and Jared [Fulton] at the shop, and with customers and people who would come in, saying that I genuinely want to understand the issue,” Douglas says. “I’m not here to be pro-gun; I’m not here to be anti-gun. I want to understand just everyday people, why they come into that gun shop and why they buy guns.”
Douglas notes that Freedom Firearms
in Battle Creek was chosen as the film’s location in part because of the racial and age diversity of the store’s clientele. He says he was also impressed by the openness of the staff to speak frankly about gun ownership. Additionally, the shop contains an indoor firing range and conducts firearm education classes.
Footage inside the shop was filmed with 13 fixed-rig cameras controlled from a nearby production truck, which allowed the filmmakers to have four cameras rolling simultaneously. Douglas estimates that the finished film, which runs just shy of an hour, was edited from about 270 hours of material.
The film includes sit-down interviews with several store patrons, including the victim of a road-rage incident involving a drawn gun, and a single mother fearful of a potential home invasion.
“In America, if everybody’s gonna have guns, I don’t want to be the one without one,” says a 61-year-old African American retiree. Her daughter, a 27-year-old medical assistant, tells the filmmakers that she’s concerned about the safety of her young son.
By coincidence, the six-day film shoot occurred during the same time period as the fatal shooting of Philando Castile — the African American man who was killed during a traffic stop in Minnesota. The following day, five police officers were killed in Dallas, Texas, by Micah Xavier Johnson, an Army Reserve veteran armed with a semi-automatic rifle. The shooter, who was black, had expressed a desire to kill white people — specifically white police officers — in retaliation for recent incidents in which blacks were shot by police. Johnson was killed during the ensuing police standoff.
As is often the case following highly publicized instances of gun violence, Freedom Firearms saw a spike in sales after the mass shooting. One woman in the film, who had never fired a gun before, says she was prompted to visit the store specifically because of the Dallas shooting.
“It crystallized in one event the whole issue around gun ownership that we’d been trying to get to,” Douglas says. “And [among] everybody who came into the shop, there were so many different opinions and so many different voices that I found it absolutely incredible that that all happened in the space of one day.”
Rocchio hopes The Gun Shop
will serve as a starting point for a series of documentaries examining other hot-button issues in America from a variety of conflicting viewpoints.
“You can have disagreement on really complex issues and still figure out solutions,” he says.
The Gun Shop
screens Tuesday, April 4, 8:30 p.m. at Stowe Cinema 3 Plex
. Reception at 7:30, with Q&A following the film. $35. Tickets available here