When HBO had a launch for the new documentary, Requiem for the Dead: American Spring 2014 last Monday, a gunman had not yet joined the prayer group at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, ending in the shooting deaths of nine parishioners including Pastor Clementa Pinckney, not only a spiritual leader, but a prominent African American political presence. A who's who of non-fiction filmmakers including D. A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, and Nancy Buirski, marveled at the film's ingenuity: the documentary, the brainchild of HBO's Sheila Nevins, and directed by Nick Doob and Shari Cookson, providing a numbing account of the number of gun-related deaths in just one American season, is created of text messages, recordings of emergency calls to 911, news footage, home photos of a selection of such random deaths that all go back to the one common denominator: the availability of guns. By Wednesday, when the horrible killing in Charleston occurred, no more examples were needed to make the point. And yet, as many mourn, with memorial services now underway and the 21 year old gunman in custody, community leaders are saying this is the "never again" moment, the call for restrictions on guns.
Guns may be an "American" obsession. Of the few gun owners I have known, none made me sit easy. The writer William S. Burroughs, one of the most fascinating people I have ever met, accidentally killed his common law wife Joan in a botched William Tell routine. He suffered from that untoward personal history for the rest of his life, but he never gave up guns. That's a choice not easy to explain: Americans' right to own guns is protected, like the right to vote. So it is with great interest that I, and maybe everyone, will be noting how this tragic issue will be resolved. I say tragic in the Aristotelian sense: this is a nation knowing the consequences, and keeping those guns around anyway. With guns readily available, everyone's fate is as random as Russian roulette. For the chilling toll, watch Requiem for the Dead on HBO, airing on June 22.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.