December 14, 2012, is a day that most of us remember, because on that cold winter day, 20 first graders were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School. This day would go down in history as the deadliest mass shooting in a grade school.
Now, let’s go back to April 4, 2006. Does that date have any significance to you? For most of you, the answer is no. But, for Pamela Bosley, that day will be forever ingrained in her mind because it’s the day her 18-year-old son, Terrell, was shot and killed on the south side of Chicago.
Although Terrell’s murder occurred 10 years ago, it remains unsolved and widely unheard of. In fact, 70 percent of all gun related cases in Chicago go unsolved, and most of them do not receive nearly as much media coverage as Sandy Hook or the Aurora movie theater shooting of 2012. Perhaps they do not receive as much national attention because of the nearly 3,000 annual shootings that occur in Chicago, 75 percent of the victims are Black.
Over 500 Chicagoans were shot and killed in the year 2015, making gun violence the leading cause of death for Black men between the ages of 18 and 34. These facts troubled journalist Katie Couric so deeply that she decided to become the executive producer and narrator for the upcoming documentary film, Under the Gun, directed by Stephanie Soechtig.
Before the film’s exclusive EPIX debut on May 15, I had the privilege of chatting with Katie, Stephanie Soechtig, the director, and Pam Bosley, who was heavily featured in the film speaking of her son’s death as well as Chicago’s gun violence.
In the film, Soechtig and Couric investigate the juxtaposition between the staggering gun statistics that face our nation and the lack of legislation put forth to enhance gun safety.
The film itself does not necessarily speak to any unknown truths about the effect of guns in this country. However, the overall approach that Soechtig and Couric take provides a more comprehensive look at gun violence in America.
Couric felt further compelled to take part in the project after the shooting at Sandy Hook failed to ignite changes in gun legislation. Couric explained that by “talking to families directly affected by shootings, we are then able to understand the vernacular used when it comes to gun policies.”
Most of the country agreed that the senseless killings of moviegoers at the Aurora theater and first graders at Sandy Hook were devastating tragedies. However, there is clearly a myopic point of view when it comes to the shootings in areas like the south side of Chicago.
Pam Bosley believes when shootings happen in areas like Chicago’s south side, they are broadly generalized as gang-related crimes. As a result, she says, “People assume that these kids deserve to be dead, even though nobody deserves to be shot and killed.” The truth is it should be impossible for the media to categorize most of the shootings as “gang related” because of lack of investigations held in Chicago. In fact, for the 500 deaths that occurred in Chicago in the 2015, only 55 of them resulted in a legitimate investigation by the Chicago police department.
Because such a small number of investigations take place after a gun-related death, it’s imperative that we take a deeper look at what really happens when someone is shot and killed in cities like Chicago.
Many of the gun sales that take place in the disenfranchised areas of the city are straw purchases. This means that the guns are purchased illegally without registration and most important, without a background check. Now, how exactly do these straw purchases take place?
The root of the issue comes from gun shops known as bad apple dealers. Many people in middle America who fight for their right to have hunting weapons and buy from gun shows aren’t familiar with the term “bad apple dealer.” It may be the most important part of the entire gun safety issue. A bad apple dealer is a gun dealer that does the bare minimum when it comes to regulating the sale of guns in their shop.
For example, anyone could walk into one of Chicago’s most popular gun shops, like Chuck’s Gun Store, and buy 200 weapons, no questions asked. That person is then able to go into different Chicago neighborhoods and sell his guns to kids for cash. From the year 2009 to 2013, over 1,500 guns used in Chicago crimes were traced back to Chuck’s Gun Shop. When there is a shooting in Chicago, there is a 1 in 12 chance that the gun used in the assault was sold at Chuck’s. This number appears more staggering when compared to the 85 percent of national gun dealers that don’t sell guns linked to crimes. Chuck’s is one shop that makes up 5 percent of the bad apple dealers that are linked to 90 percent of national gun crime.
Bad apple dealers are only a fraction of the problem when it comes to the loopholes in gun sale regulation. In certain cases, it’s extremely difficult to comprehend the degree to which the loopholes allow for guns to be sold to individuals who should never have a gun in the first place. In the case of the Aurora Century 16 movie shooting, James Holmes, the perpetrator, was able to walk into a gun store and purchase military grade firearms with accessories that are typically used by riot police. Holmes was certainly never in the military nor was he in need of riot gear, but he was never questioned at the point of sale. Situations like this are able to happen because just as Couric puts it, “The gun lobby is currently co-opting the narrative.”
The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a for profit gun lobby that has extreme power over the way guns are handled in this country. They are able to manipulate senators and members of congress to satisfy their own agendas while also using scare tactics to get most Americans to believe that changes in gun legislation is a way for politicians to "take our guns away," a phrase often hurled around by the NRA’s Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre.
When it comes to speaking to possible changes to gun legislation, LaPierre chooses his words carefully, and is sure to use the most basic yet fearful vernacular. In a Daily Caller op-ed, LaPierre claimed that when it comes to guns, “Obama long ago made clear that he wants to ban them all.” After making such a false claim, LaPierre found a way to seamlessly advocate that “every gun owner should be an active member of the NRA.” His game is to scare gun owners into believing a gun-loathing Obama administration will take away the nation's guns while encouraging them to put more money in his pocket by joining the NRA. His interests do not lie within the hearts of America’s gun owners; they lie within the dividends on his bank statement.
Of the 80 million gun owners in this country, only about 6 percent of them are active members in the NRA. Of the active members, 74 percent are in favor for universal background checks on all purchases of weapons.
Now, most NRA members believe in changing gun legislation, but they only represent a fraction of the nation’s gun owners. Yet, somehow the leaders of the lobby find it appropriate to generalize for all gun owners.
We can assume that the NRA believes stricter background checks means less money in their pockets, which is why they resort to fear-mongering tactics to keep voters from turning on them. However, both the second amendment and upheld decisions by the Supreme Court make it virtually impossible for any gun legislation to be passed which will take away the citizens right to own a gun.
In the 2008 case of the District of Columbia, the Supreme Court, led by the late Justice Scalia, interpreted the Second Amendment as a motion that bequeaths an individual’s constitutional right to own a firearm. Today, when we talk about reforming gun legislation, we are talking about making it more difficult for straw purchases to occur and holding bad apple dealers accountable for the detriment they impose on areas like the south side of Chicago.
Gun violence doesn’t end after the shots are fired. It continues on when a mother is unable to hug her child, or when a father has to warn his son about the dangers of walking around the neighborhood during certain times of the night.
After Terrell’s death, Pam admitted to trying to take her own life twice, which is why she, along with her husband and other bereaved parents, started the group Purpose Over Pain in 2007. After spending a great deal of time with Pam and other members of the community, Couric realized what we all know too well that “when crimes are categorized as just gang related, it devalues the life of the people affected and marginalizes the pain and suffering of the victim’s families.”
Now, Pam’s organization is able to provide support to parents who have lost their children to guns as well as build up the self-esteem of young people in the community with alternative social outlets. Purpose Over Pain not only reaches out to schools and individuals affected by gun violence, but it also provides safe alternative recreational activities for young people to participate in. By creating a safe environment for Chicagoans, Pam is taking on the challenge of supplying unconditional support to those who need it most.
The film itself could not come at a better time, with this year being an election year. Pam knows firsthand that many people don’t talk to their local representatives or hold them accountable for their stance on the issue.
Pam, along with Couric, believes that all voters should organize and get involved. You don’t have to live in Chicago to be personally affected by the devastation that occurs there on a daily basis. The gun statistics, particularly in Chicago, are hard and true and should be spread through social media and other outlets. Change will not occur until everyone decides to stop sitting back and instead get involved. Soechtig, the director of the project, hopes that people finally decide to not just comment on the terrible gun violence plaguing the nation and instead “put your ballot where your mouth is.”
Under the Gun premieres on May 15 at 8 p.m. for free exclusively on EPIX and EPIX.com
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.