The debate surrounding gun control and the best way to limit the number of gun deaths that occur in our nation is often polarizing for a number of reasons. Whether it’s issues of constitutional rights, public safety, or any number of other topics that arise when the subject is discussed, finding common ground that could generate real dialogue often seems impossible. However, a recent documentary titled “Under the Gun” set out to do just that and to give a voice to those on both sides of the debate. Unfortunately, as the New York Times’ Katie Rogers describes, some have recently called into question just how fair the critically acclaimed film actually is.
The controversy centers on a scene where Katie Couric, who did most of the interviews for the documentary, asks a group of gun-rights activists, “If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing guns.” The camera then pans the room as nine seconds of silence and blank stares lapse before transitioning to the next scene. That’s not how it actually played out, however. Just after Couric finished her question, a member of the group responded “One, if you’re not in jail you should still have your basic rights.” Needless to say, many in the group did not believe the scene to be a fair portrayal of their position.
The documentary’s director, Stephanie Soechtig, said on Wednesday that the scene was not intended to portray the activists in a negative light, but rather “to provide a pause for the viewer to have a moment to consider this important question before presenting the facts on Americans’ opinions on background checks.” While that may be true, the decision not to include the group’s answer and to so drastically elongate the pause before transitioning to the next part of the film call into question the film’s true purpose. And for a documentary that, by most accounts, did seek to present an honest and even-handed portrayal of the key issues behind the debate, such questions are all the more problematic.
You see, standards are often higher when the purpose of a project is to give both sides of a story. If viewers and participants had gone into the film expecting a highly polemicized portrayal of the subject, then Soechtig’s editing choice would have seemed right at home and probably wouldn’t be an issue today. However, because their purpose was to demonstrate the nuance behind the debate, anything that seems to favor one side over the other is going to be treated as suspect.
As Christians, our lives will often fall under similar scrutiny. For those who claim to live as Christ and to be his representatives to the world around us—which is true of all who publicly bear the title “Christian” whether they realize it or not—we have accepted Christ’s calling to a higher standard than that of the lost around us (Matthew 5:48). As a result, non-Christians are absolutely justified to hold us to that standard.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we will always meet it—in fact, such failure is an inevitable part of living on this side of heaven—but when we do fall short, we must not get defensive or point out the shortcomings of others in response. Rather, we must own up to our mistakes and give our heavenly Father the chance to redeem them by showing the watching world that we serve a God who not only forgives our failures, but uses them to help us conform more to his image.
Despite her apologies, Soechtig’s statement in response to the criticism falls short in this regard. Because she attempted to explain the decision instead of owning up to her error, she left herself open to further claims of bias and hypocrisy. Let’s not make the same mistake in our lives as well.