The gun rights debate in the United States has been smouldering for decades, but has become white hot since Newtown. And while the gun rights advocates are a very large and vocal group, they don’t do the whole “polished presentation” thing very well. Michael Bloomberg, with his bottomless wallet, does a great job of putting out slick propaganda pieces, but gun rights advocates don’t seem to have the same kind of capabilities. That’s where Kris Koenig comes in, a filmmaker from California who is wrapping up production on a new documentary, ‘Assaulted: Civil Rights Under Fire‘. The film looks at the gun control debate in the United States and will be released in theaters on June 20th. Kris took a couple minutes to talk with me about the project . . .
I asked him about the origins of the project, and it seems like it was a natural extension of an earlier film of his. “We were working on a film about urban street gangs and I was actually filming a Norteño gang member with a deputy sheriff,” he told me. “And after the contact with the gang members we were getting back in the car, and the deputy sheriff suggested that I get a carry permit just to have some protection. And from that process of going and getting a carry permit in my county, I learned that the rest of the state of California is completely different. So in that process I decided to start to do a documentary on what started as a California centric film on the laws, and that grew out to a national view through the events of Colorado and Newtown.”
Given the subject of the film, I wanted to know if he was a “gun guy” to begin with, someone who’d always loved guns, or if he was a recent convert. Kris told me he grew up with guns. “My father was in the military, we had guns in our home, so I grew up around it. I wasn’t a rabid gun guy, I didn’t have a massive collection of guns.”
While Kris may not be a “rabid” gun guy, he’s taken a special interest in the rights behind the ownership. According to Kris, “what intrigued me was the Second Amendment aspect, the civil right aspect of gun ownership in America. The film deals more with the right than the mechanical device. So we look at the roots of the second amendment, where it comes from, talk a little bit about natural rights, talk about how the second amendment was applied or misapplied through our nation’s history, we talk about gun laws, which were mainly written to deny minorities ownership, and now we do it not on color but on socio-economic basis.”
After interviewing more than fifty notables for the movie (including Alan Gura and Ted Nugent), I wanted to get Kris’s feel for how the gun rights debate is playing out across America. “I think the issue is kind of muddled right now,” he said, “and that’s one of the goals that we hope the movie will help with. We hope to clear some of the fog at the national level as well as the local level. The problem is that our lawmakers get caught up too much in the mechanical aspects of guns, and fail to look at the civil rights aspect.
“There’s plenty of examples of where the second amendment has been applied properly, as well equally there’s plenty of examples of where it’s been misapplied. And so we bring those out so people can step back and get a broader view on this issue.”
One of the more interesting aspects of this project is that it is funded almost entirely by a pair of Kickstarter campaigns where individuals pledged as little as $1 and as much as $2,000 each to the project. “The first investor is always your credit card if you’re a filmmaker, so you max out your credit cards, and then we did the two Kickstarters and those were huge for us, and then once we got the film nearly completed we sold off 25% of the asset of the film to private investors.” According to Kris, they plan to make those investors their money through ticket sales and eventually DVD sales of the film.
Speaking of ticket sales, Kris says that they’ve already planned showings in 15 markets around the United States (including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles…), and are working on more as time goes on. “We’re distributing this on our own, working with Film District and working with a company called Tugg. Tugg is kind of a grassroots group, kind of like Kickstarter. If you want a film to come to your town you sign up, and if you get the requisite number of tickets sold the film comes to your town.
“We’re hoping that the grassroots aspect of that will bring out all the gun owners, the gun clubs, to sponsor this film to come to their town.” Kris says that clubs can get as much as 5% of the ticket sales back to fund their club.
Kris says he’s optimistic about the next couple months. He’s hoping that the limited release, as well as the Tugg campaign, can get enough people into the theaters to see his film that it sparks a national release. And then, after the July 4th weekend, he’s planning to launch a video-on-demand version, followed by a DVD and finally Netflix. In short, if you want to see the movie, there will be a way. And with a little luck, you might be able to catch it on a big screen near you.