With the election season just around the corner, gun rights are, or should be, on the minds of most shooters. Guns and gun control, among other issues, have been widely discussed in the years and months leading up to the 2016 presidential election, especially given some of the tragic events of recent years, such as the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado.
In the aftermath of these events, the discussion surrounding firearms in the U.S. reached a fever pitch, and the topic has remained in the forefront of public discussion since, with many opposed to guns calling for increased gun control. It was in the context of this politically charged public discourse that Jesse Winton decided to create a documentary to get to the heart of the gun control debate and why the right to bear arms is such a crucial aspect of a free society.
Winton's documentary, “Targeted: Exposing the Gun Control Agenda,” premiered in a special one-night event on September 29 at a host of theaters across the country. An encore theater showing will occur in 35+ locations on Wednesday, October 12, with a complete list becoming available soon on the film's website. The DVD and Digital HD release of the documentary will occur on November 1st.
Gun Digest was fortunate enough to chat with Winton, who was both the writer and director for “Targeted,” to ask about the film and what inspired him to undertake the project. Watch the film's official trailer above, and check out our Q&A with Winton below to learn more about this important look at gun rights and freedom in America.
Editor's Note: Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Gun Digest: Where did your interest in film and documentaries begin?
Jesse Winton: I got interested in film when I was about 12 years old. I really started to get involved and began studying filmmaking and the art and the process. Documentaries are a really great way to start in film. You learn how to piece the story together, how to find a story that you want to tell and how to tell it.
As far as “Targeted” specifically, I worked on a documentary when I was 18 or 19 years old that a friend of mine was producing. It was a political documentary on environmentalism, and around that time, I really wasn’t all that politically savvy or politically motivated. But as a result of working on this documentary, I really started to follow politics and the important issues of the day.
So when the time came to put together a project of my own, after seeing the headlines and following the news for quite a while, I was really seeing how important gun control was, how regularly it was discussed, how big of an issue it was to the political dialogue of the day. I figured there was a really great topic there in talking about this issue and how it relates to government and how it relates to what our country looks like right now.
GD: How did you get started with shooting?
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JW: Interestingly enough, I’m not really an avid shooter. I own guns. I have them, and I know how to shoot. I shoot off and on. My cousin is big into shooting. My uncle’s big into shooting. My dad really enjoys shooting. So I go and shoot with them every once in a while.
But for me, this project was more motivated by the political side of it and in really studying the politics of gun control and seeing the continual slide that we've had toward more and more government control. I really wanted to look at this issue from the perspective of how it relates to government and how the politics of gun control affect who we are today. So for me, it was less about the guns themselves or about really being inspired because of a love for guns or shooting sports, and it was more about seeing how important this issue is to who we are as Americans and trying to get to the heart of that.
GD: Why did you decide to embark on this particular project? What made you decide this was necessary and something you had to do?
JW: You know, you look through the writings of America's founding fathers and you see—specifically, if you look at their writings on the importance of a free society being armed—how foundational the right to bear arms is to maintaining our freedom. Someone once said, “I was once asked, ‘if I had to choose between the first amendment and the second amendment, which one would I choose,' and I told them I’d pick the second amendment, carry a gun, and say whatever I want.” That’s obviously tongue and cheek. It’s meant to be somewhat satirical, but the idea that’s there I think is really important, that a free people maintain their freedoms.
Obviously, the ability to vote, the fact that we live in a democracy—those are big in maintaining freedom—but at the end of the day, the foundational freedom that holds up all the rest that we’re guaranteed in the bill of rights…they're all propped up by the second amendment and our ability to defend ourselves from tyranny. And if you look through the founders' writings, they were very clear on the purpose of the second amendment. The purpose of an armed populace was to keep from being put into the type of situation that they had just spent 10, 15 years of their lives fighting and dying and bleeding for, which was to free themselves from a tyrannical government.
They wanted people to be able to be free, they wanted people to be able to defend themselves from tyranny, and they wanted people to understand the purpose of being armed, which is maintaining freedom. So that was the motivation for me behind making “Targeted,” being able to talk about the slide that we’re seeing toward more government control and a more socialistic, totalitarian status shift and mindset, and talk about that issue and how it relates to our right to bear arms and our right to keep ourselves free.
GD: In the course of the film, you speak with a lot of big names in politics and within the gun industry. What was that like, and how important were those people to some of the insights you developed?
JW: Obviously, it was a really great experience being able to talk with people who have spent their lives in politics. People like Mike Huckabee. I have so much respect for Senator Rand Paul as well, Thomas Massie. It was an incredible opportunity being able to speak with them.
Aside from the obvious intellectual aspects of the issue we were discussing, I think what I walked away with was a real sense of hope for the fact that there are still good people in government. There are still good people trying to fight for America and the American legacy, to fight for freedom. Speaking with these people that are part of government, that work in government, and that have a very good mindset on it was really encouraging to me.
I think people can take hope in the fact that, while we are dealing with a lot of difficult issues we haven’t had to deal with before as a nation, we also have a lot of really strong, principled people in government that are working for the constitution, and they’re working for maintaining that freedom and maintaining civil liberty. So, in that regard, speaking with those people really gave me a sense of hope.
GD: It seems like a recurring them throughout the film relates to the underlying ideals of freedom and liberty being very much intertwined with gun rights. Could you talk a little more about that?
JW: Yeah, so if you think about the first battle in the American War for Independence at Lexington and Concord, the British army was coming to Lexington and Concord because the colonists had stockpiled guns and ammunition there. The British army was coming to confiscate those. So, you look at that situation, and what that proves is that the British army understood they had to be able to disarm those colonists. They could not subjugate the colonists if they were armed because they would be able to defend themselves.
The very first battle in the war for independence was fought, on a very basic level, over gun control. The founders really understood that, and obviously, the British army understood that. So, this aspect of being able to be free and being able to maintain freedom was something the founders really wanted to guarantee to us, which they did through the bill of rights.
There’s this prevailing idea that gets pumped out by people in the media and by people that are, I think, woefully misinformed, that the second amendment is only there to maintain either the right of a militia or the right of people to own guns to be able to hunt and participate in shooting sports. I think that’s absolutely ludicrous. When you look at the writings of the founders and how clear they were on one—the individual’s right to own a gun—and two—the people’s right as a whole to be able to defend themselves from tyranny—I think that completely blows the idea that the second amendment is there for something other than self defense and defense from government out of the water.
The way it relates to freedom is just, at its core, our ability as a free people to be able to keep ourselves free by keeping the government in check. It’s all part of the checks and balances that we have as part of our system of government.
GD: Have people become too detached or distant from the struggles that led to the freedoms and liberties that our country enjoys, and how does that relate to the movement for gun control?
JW: I think a lot of people have become very passive. We have taken our government for granted. We have taken our society, our culture for granted. There's an attitude of: “This is who we are. This is America. So we don’t really have to work to maintain it.” And I think that what we’re seeing is the result of that.
We’re seeing a lack of information, a lack of people that are really informed, and we’re seeing a lot of people that are very easily swayed by public opinion. They’re easily swayed by emotion. They’re easily swayed by media.
So we’ve lost that sense, fundamentally, of who we are and what America was created to be, which was a free society. I think there’s a lot of people that have forgotten the amount of sacrifice that has been made in the past in order to maintain the freedoms that we enjoy now, and we’ve taken that freedom for granted.
A lot of that is due to media, it’s due to education, and it’s due to the fact that we generally have become somewhat apathetic. We’ve failed to care about the things that we need to care about.
When the Kardashians are more important to a lot of people, or they know more about the Kardashians than they do about American history, that’s a problem. I sincerely believe that this obsession we have developed with pop culture that has taken people and put them into somewhat of a tabloid mindset has completely diminished our ability to think critically about important issues. And it causes us to slide toward this type of society that we’re dealing with, which is a one that’s forgotten the importance of freedom.
GD: In the film, one of the places you travel to is Switzerland, which is another country that has a large gun culture. What was that like, and how was their gun culture similar to or different than ours?
JW: Their gun culture is similar in that it is very ingrained in who they are as the Swiss people. It’s very much a part of the fabric of their history, which I think is the same in a lot of places in the United States.
The way it’s very different and the way that it’s very unique is there’s not a prevailing view that guns are just inherently bad, an attitude that many people in America have. Over in Switzerland, they’re not seen this way. They have an understanding of guns as tools. They have an understanding that guns have a very specific purpose, and they use them for that purpose. They use them very responsibly. But it’s also a very social thing for them.
I had an opportunity to shoot in two of their shooting festivals. It’s the equivalent of a county fair in the United States. There’s people, there’s beer, there’s good food, there’s music, and it’s like the community coming together for one passion, which is being able to shoot. Obviously, it’s a celebration of the sport of shooting, but it's a very different prevailing national attitude toward guns in Switzerland.
GD: What do you hope people take away from watching this documentary?
JW: I’m really hoping that what “Targeted” does is open up a dialogue on the issue in a different way. Obviously, it’s an issue that’s been talked about, and it’s regularly discussed, but I think one of the big problems that’s facing America is that we’ve lost our ability to have civil dialogue about important issues. We become so ingrained within our own mindset and our own ideas that we don’t engage with people with other ideas than ours.
I don’t think its deliberate that people only want to talk with people that have the same ideas. I think it’s just kind of a natural thing. We associate with people that think like us. But when there are discussions on these issues, I think they have a tendency to be uncivil. They have a tendency to slide away from just discussing the logic and discussing the facts and can turn into more emotional discussions, and we lose the civility.
So, I’m hoping that “Targeted” will:
- Bring more attention to the agenda
- Will be able to open a dialogue and start civil discussions on this issue
- Will really inspire people to get involved and to really care
The conclusion that we draw in this film is that the issue of gun control is not only about guns. This whole thing is about freedom. That’s really what it comes down to.
Guns are a piece of that—a huge piece of that. But at the end of the day, this issue relates to freedom, and that’s what it needs to come back to fundamentally, our understanding that we are free, we were created to be free, and we need to maintain that.