MT. PLEASANT — As a film about gun violence was playing at the First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Pleasant, news notifications began pinging on phones, alerting of a shooting at a mall in Florida.
On Sunday, Oct. 13, The First Presbyterian Church hosted a film showing and panel discussion about gun violence on Sunday, Oct. 13. Community members gathered to discuss their opinions on gun control and legislation. The event began with a screening of the film “Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence,” a documentary that was created through a joint effort by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, and Compassion, Peace, and Justice Ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The program was aired on NBC and was selected by the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site as part of their D.R.E.A.M. Film series. The documentary included interviews with victims of gun violence as well as family members of those killed by gun violence. According to the documentary 30,000 people in the country are killed each year through gun violence.
Following the screening, community members discussed their thoughts on gun violence and shared some of their own experiences around guns. Pastor Trey Hegar moderated the conversation and answered questions brought up by attendees.
At the beginning of the conversation, Deb Rodgers, who attended the screening with her husband Gary, noted that during the film, her phone notified her that a shooting had just occurred.
“While we were sitting here, my phone dinged and I looked at it and there was a shooting at a mall in Boca Raton. Already it’s on the news feed,” she said, informing others at the event of the incident.
Deb would later go on to explain that while she is not a pro-gun person, certain incidents have made her consider getting a gun for safety reasons. Her thoughts around owning a gun shifted after an incident occurred in her house involving a firearm.
“For the first time I’ve wanted to buy a gun and I’ve never wanted to buy a gun before … I don’t want to buy into this culture of being armed but I feel like I’m going to be forced into it,” Deb said.
Many people at the discussion expressed surprise at statistics presented at the conclusion of the film that noted 74 percent of National Rifle Association (NRA) members support requiring criminal background checks and 87 percent of gun owners support background checks on all gun purchases.
Claudia Streeter, a Mt. Pleasant resident said she “did not know that you don’t have to have a background check to buy a gun at a gun show and that’s where many, many guns are sold.” The film highlighted gun shows as an avenue through which people could take to bypass certain gun regulations. Pastor Hegar noted that certain gun sellers do run their own background checks but that it does rely on the sellers to take responsibility to understand who they are selling their guns to.
During the conversation, a community member also noted that he felt focus was not put enough on mental health and violent media that may cause certain individuals to turn to gun violence.
“This focuses on the gun. It’s almost like focusing on the automobile rather than the driver. It isn’t focusing on the type of person to pull the trigger or what caused him to have that persona.”
In response, Pastor Hegar noted that he believed it’s part of human nature to be violent.
“It’s one of the things we have to learn to go against … a sense of bloodlust. It’s ingrained in all of us and access to violent weapons makes it easier to carry out larger acts of violence. So I would say, you couldn’t just stereotype and say this is about a sociopath or this is about a person who has a certain make up because he played video games,” Hegar said.
Jeff Fager, a community member, said, “I read a study … a regression analysis of all of these various variables people claim are connected to our gun violence: video games, movies, mental illness. The one datum that correlated with the American out-of-whack gun violence was the number of guns per person.”
In response to the discussion surrounding the argument that focus should be put less on guns and more on people, Linda Albright asked the group how best to respond when countered with the phrase that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”
Pastor Hegar noted that perhaps the best response would be to concede the point.
“I would say, you’re absolutely right. So why in the world would we let everyone have a gun?”
As the discussion continued, topics such as proper gun care and storage as well as mental health services available to those in need were brought up.
Pastor Hegar said he felt having the film screening and discussion was important because it brings awareness and educates community members. The church often does movie showings and discussions about hot topic issues that church and community members are interested in learning more about.
“It’s a national conversation that has local consequences,” Hegar said.
“We’re worried about where we are as a nation and so we start with dialogue,” he concluded.