First published in 2000, Zed Nelson's book of photography titled Gun Nation became a seminal perspective on America's enduring gun fetish. In the years since, the country's love of guns is more prominent than ever before, as is the annual number of gun-related deaths. In this documentary short, Nelson returns to many of the subjects that populated his watershed book, and re-examines a culture that has only become more rabid and divisive.
Hailing from London, Nelson approaches the issue from an outsider's point of view. He recites the harrowing statistics from the outset: since his book was initially produced, there have been over a half a million deaths related to firearms in the United States. The central mission of the film is to determine why - especially given these startling death tolls - so many Americans remain resistant to even the most modest gun law reforms. If any easy answers exist to this troubling dilemma, the film doesn't find them, but it does expose viewers to a wide array of personalities who fall on both sides of the issue.
A shop owner boasts of his ability to order 100 machine guns on a whim. A police chief worries about the country's expanding open carry laws, which grant citizens the right to bring a firearm into restaurants, bars and public parks. A medical examiner illustrates how most shooting deaths occur in domestic situations, and result from the actions of those who are otherwise law abiding. A father continues to deal with the grief of losing his 15-year old son during the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, and fails to understand why more hasn't been done to prevent these types of shootings in the 17 years since.
The filmmakers also catch up with perhaps the most controversial subject of the book, a Texas man who was photographed holding his infant in one arm and a pistol in the other. He argues that the photo illustrated his devotion to protecting his family while his detractors protest with charges of child endangerment.
Gun Nation also tackles issues related to the increasing prevalence of assault weapons, the widespread reach and influence of the National Rifle Association, gun-free zones, and the notion of arming school teachers. The film may not be revelatory in its insights, but it does provide a thoughtful representation of the divides that remain regarding U.S. gun laws.