AFI Docs: Charleston Shootings Mirror Filmmakers’ Stories of Gun Violence

Charleston Shootings Mirror Filmmakers' Stories of

WASHINGTON — When Abigail Disney was filming “The Armor of Light,” in which a Christian conservative leader reconsiders his position on gun rights, she says, “It was an unfortunate fact of life that we felt with strong certainty that there would be a shooting like this.”

She was referring to the shootings on Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C., in which nine people were killed in a rampage during a prayer meeting.

Her movie is among the titles at AFI Docs this weekend that delve into gun violence and those who are involved on both sides of the debate over the root causes and what to do about it.

“The Armor of Light,” Disney’s directorial debut, screened on Saturday night. Disney was joined by one of the movie’s subjects: the Rev. Rob Schenck, above, chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance. The movie also features Lucy McBath, whose son Jordan Davis was shot and killed in 2012 outside of a convenience store by a man upset in a dispute over the playing of loud music.

In the movie, Schenck grapples with how to square a strident position on gun rights with a pro-life position in the context of his spiritual beliefs over the sanctity of life.

It’s a meeting with McBath, grieving over her son but also moving toward a career as an activist on gun violence, that helps convince him to go public with his position. The movie shows his discomfort over the alliance between the National Rifle Association and conservative evangelicals.

Disney says she had wanted to do something about gun violence for a long time, but from a different approach, one that showed the religious side of the argument. The movie shows Schenck engaged in debate with other religious leaders, some of whom argue that there is no contradiction in being pro-life and pro-gun rights because of the need to protect innocent people in threatening situations.

“Every time there is an incident like this [in Charleston] you see how much the dynamics are broken,” Disney says, noting that the tendency after such a tragedy has been for advocates on both sides to “just push back harder.” She hopes that her movie shows a “respectful and open and honest” conversation over the problem.

She is on the other side of the political spectrum from the religious right, but she had been seeking representatives who could talk about positions that were, in her words, “pro-life” and “pro-gun.” Schenck took her call, and after meeting him she found that he had been questioning the response to gun violence.

Although the focus of the movie is on Schenck and his shift in positions, she says she is not working with any anti-gun violence advocacy groups to promote it.

“Because this is so sensitive, and emotions are so high and polarized, I really wanted to work in a way that was not advocacy oriented,” she says. “The minute you descend into that tussle, there is no winning.”

Nevertheless, the film does show the extent to which the position of the NRA has influenced the fervor of the religious right. Disney says, “If this film doesn’t reach people at the center, what are we going to do to change this dynamic?”

Another movie screened there, “3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets,” centers on the case of Jordan Davis, delving into “stand your ground” laws and the issue of race. The shooter, white middle-aged software developer Michael Dunn, claimed self-defense, but was convicted of first degree murder last year and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

“I think what has become apparent is that the DNA of what happened in ‘3 1/2 Minutes’ is present in all these other cases, and of course what happened on Wednesday,” says director Marc Silver. “The root of that is the same thing.”

Silver says his original perception of the shooting was that Dunn “through his own kind of naivety and ignorance toward his own racism, he came to represent almost a whole part of America that is also naive to their racism. That is one of the reasons why we focused on this particular story.”

Dunn, through his lawyer, refused to be interviewed, but the movie features video of the trial, as well as Dunn’s phone calls from prison to his fiancee. His case began to be known in the media as the “loud music” trial.

Silver adds, “I think my perception [of what happened] always remained the same, but about 2/3 of the way through the edit, then Ferguson happened. It’s not that we changed the film in any way. But the way that the film spoke back to us, it just resonated differently. So it wasn’t that my perspective changed, it was just that the film itself meant something deeper.”

Disney says when she first heard about the Charleston shootings, she first felt a “sickening familiarity,” but also a “depressing amount of confidence that there will be another incident.”

She is planning to screen the movie at churches and communities where evangelicals are prominent, with the hope that it will at least inspire more respectful and honest conversation. She says she has heard from ministers who have told her that they agree with Schenck, but fear that speaking out will jeopardize their careers.

“There are people on both sides with the best intentions,” Disney says, noting that debate often devolves into accusations on one side of trying to take away guns, and of murderous racism on the other. In fact, the extremists are just a “tiny percentage.”

She says, “We all need to take a deep breath and a step from the froth of this discourse and have a better conversation about our values.”

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  1. jcbell45 says:

    I am saddened to hear what happened in Charleston. Not long ago I found out I have Iranian Heritage. My Yorkshire surname is half Pict/half Angle. The Picts from Central Scotland mixed with the Angles 449AD.Angles later because the English. Picts origin Scythian Tribe from N.E. Iran, lead by Queen Tomyris. Her + her Tribe were expelled from N.E Iran 625BC. They moved to Ukraine + Crimea, then Romania, through Western Europe, from Northern France, to Ireland, to Central Scotland; and finally to Boernicia ( modern day Berwickshire); 400AD. Angles origin Viking, from Oslo Fjord Norway, to ‘Slesvig’, south Denmark, invading England, north of the river Humber 449AD, while the Saxons invaded England, south of the river Humber. The Saxons, from ‘Saxony’ ; Germany. But the whole world’s ancestors descended from Central Africa, hundreds of thousands of years ago, migrating to Asia, Middle East; etc. Then some Tribes migrating to India etc, to West + East Europe, to Scandinavia; to where we are today. We are in fact, all 7 billion of us; are related to each other. We should be very proud of our very ancient Central African Ancestral Heritage. There should be no excuse for Racism. I am very proud of my very ancient Iranian Heritage. I also hv ancient Welsh Royal Heritage, a distant cousin if the British Royal family + British actor Tom Hiddleston. See my blogs ‘Julie Bell my Scottish welsh royal heritage / chart of Tom Hiddlestons grt uncle Ralph Bruce Verney’ on normal ‘google’

  2. I wonder if Disney also delved into the cases where a legal gun owner saved INNOCENT lives bu killing the criminal instead?

  3. I’m tired of these radical progressive liberals minimizing my beliefs on the second amendment by lumping every pro gun stance under the guise of the NRA.

    The NRA gets way too much credit. They aren’t the ones pushing gun rights. It’s individuals like me, democrat and republicans who are voicing our opinion to exercise our 2A right.

    The NRA is vastly behind on most issues, including the m855 ammo ban. Stopping that was entirely a grass roots effort.

  4. ObserverMI says:

    It’s not ‘gun violence’, guns do Not conduct violence. It’s the person behind the gun, hello?
    That person can also conduct life saving and violence prevention with a gun, or a knive or any other weapon.

    It’s the person’s intent of a weapon that commits good or not, not the object itself.
    Guns save countless lives every year. Wake Up.

  5. jcbell45 says:

    I’m saddened to hear what has happened in Charleston. I believe in Equality. I’m disabled, suffering badly from very severe British Government Social Security cuts. I’m £14 per month worse off, since the Cuts in 2012. Regard Racial Equality -all 7 billion of us are originally descended from Central Africa, hundreds of thousand years ago. I have ancient Iranian Heritage. My Yorkshire surname Bell, from the Scottish Picts, from Central Scotland, originally were Scythian. From North East Iran lead by Massagetae Queen, Tomyris. In 625BC, her + her Tribe were expelled from N.E. Iran by Persian King Cyrus. Then they migrated to Ukraine+ Crimea, Romania, thru Western Europe. From Northern France to Ireland to Central Scotland 2nd/1st Century B.C. The Picts moved to Boernicia 400AD ( modern day Berwickshire, north of Northumbria ). Then the Angles invaded north of the river Humber , northern England; 449AD. The Picts merged with the Angles. The Angles origin Viking from Oslo Fjord Norway to ‘Slesvig’ south of Denmark. Going back to the whole world’s African ancestors to Asia, Middle East, then migrating to India etc, to Western Europe, Scandinavia. I am very proud of my ancient Iranian ancestors. We are all related to each other, through Central African D.N.A. We should be proud of that Heritage. Julie Cogan Bell

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