Why You Need To Watch Channel 4’s Documentary Kids And Guns This Week

This new documentary explores the extraordinary lives of America's youth, and their guns.


by Jess Commons |
Published on

It’s a statistic that just doesn’t make sense to us here in the UK – in America an estimated 34% of households own guns and in 2015, firearms are set to become the most common cause of death in Americans aged 15-24.

So why don’t the American government just ban guns? Easier said than done. An estimated 34% of households in America own a gun and there’s somewhere between 262 and 310 million firearms in current circulation. As the debate between pro and anti-gun lobbies rages on in the wake of the Sandy Hook and Elliot Rodgers massacres, a new documentary aims to examine how deeply entrenched in normal American life guns are by looking at how some of the country's children grow with them.

‘I was looking at YouTube for something and I came across some kids shooting a gun and I was like, “Wow, what’s that!”’ says Francine Shaw, the director of Channel 4’s documentary Kids And Guns. ‘I assumed it was a one off weird thing, but then I started loking for more and there’s thousands of them, kids of all ages, shooting various sized weapons.’ And so Francine began making a film on that very subject. ‘I was interested in it because it’s so alien to us, and it’s so normal in America, we just wouldn’t do that.’

In 2015 firearms are set to become the most common cause of death in Americans aged 15-24

The kids in Francine’s documentary range from older teenagers all the way down to four-year-old Kaylin whose father JD is keen to get her started from a young age. For viewers, it’s shocking that guns are even made for people that tiny, but according to Francine, it’s normal. ‘You can get all sorts of colours and different guns marketed as youth rifles.’ But do kids really need them? ‘The more time I spent with people over there, the more I realised that it was a family tradition that would have been upheld whether there had been youth rifles or not,’ says Francine. ‘Kids, especially in hunting families have been learning to shoot and hunt from really early on for generations. The connotations of hunting over there are very different to hunting here, where it’s a priveledged activity, whereas [in the US] a lot of them are doing it actually to live.’

But as is documented all too clearly in the media, accidents with guns do happen. ‘No matter how safe you are with guns, they are dangerous things and accidents can happen,’ explains Francine when we ask her about the story of a nine-year-old Hank that the documentary explores. ‘I think he first learned to shoot when he was young and he shot his first deer when he was five.’ In February this year, Hank went out hunting by himself and didn’t come back. ‘He was literally 200 yards from where they [his family] were all in the camp and he tripped over and fell in the stream and the gun went off and hit him in the forehead,’ says Francine.

To the British viewer, sending a nine year old off to hunt by himself is almost mind-blowingly irresponsible, but Francine is keen to point out that in terms of gun-owning families who hunt for a living, Hank’s parent’s decision to let him go off by himself wasn’t abnormal and that gun safety was important to them. ‘Obviously, they’d gone through the safety training with him and were confident that he was safe. I think they were really good parents. All of these families were so careful about safety with their kids. I spent long enough with them to know that they weren’t putting on a show for me.’

For some people in America, owning a gun is not something that's negotiable. ‘I personally would never carry a gun, but I don’t know what I’d do if I lived in America, because everyone’s got a gun in certain states. It’s a different ball game because people who carry out home invasions in America are often armed with a gun, so people feel like they need a gun in their house. It’s a self fulfilling violence against violence thing.’

So how should America tackled it’s gun issues? ‘It’s really complex and I’m not sure that I’m qualified to make that judgement because it there’s so much to it. For us, the immediate thing to say is, ‘Oh, well we don’t have guns and we don’t have those problems.’ But for them it’s not that. For them it’s an institution. There are so many guns in America, how on earth would you get all those guns back? It’s so difficult to reconcile with any one point of view. With this film, I just wasnted to bed down with people and understand why it’s not such a black and white proposal [to ban guns].’

Kids And Guns is on Channel 4 at 10PM, July 31st

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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