Newtown Web Series Asks: How to Have a Civil, Productive Discourse on Gun Violence?
26 people -- including 20 first graders -- were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting
Ronny Ahmed will never forget the moment in 2014 when a gunman emerged suddenly and shot him while he was studying for finals at Florida State University.
“First bullet went through, hit my spine at my [vertebra] T-10, bounced off my spine, hit my liver — and then that one instantly paralyzed me,” he says in the third installment of We Are All Newtown, a three-part web series that PEOPLE is exclusively debuting this week.
In the same webisode, an NRA gun safety instructor says he thinks a trained shooter like himself might have helped prevent the tragedy on Nov. 20, 2014, when a gunman stormed inside Strozier Library and non-fatally shot three people before being shot dead himself.
“I’m torn,” David Pienta says. “But I would think that if I was there – someone who shoots probably at least once a month, once every other month — that I could have made a difference.”
But Ahmed himself doesn’t think anything would have been different had he been allowed to carry a gun with him on campus.
“I didn’t have enough time to turn before he shot me, so the idea that I could have reached into my waistband, pulled out a gun and shot him — or someone else could have reacted faster and stopped him before he shot me or something like that — is completely ridiculous,” he says.
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The three episodes of We Are All Newtown feature survivors of mass shootings, spiritual leaders, doctors, law enforcement officials and others talking about moving forward after gun violence.
The thought-provoking web series is a companion to the documentary Newtown, which premieres on PBS on April 3.
Through raw and candid interviews with first responders, teachers and parents of children who died in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 26 people died, the searing documentary details how the community is still reeling from the tragedy.
“This is a critical time for truth telling and sharing the stories of lives and communities devastated by gun violence,” the film’s producer, Maria Cuomo Cole, tells PEOPLE.
As difficult as it is to watch parents “share their intimate, heart-wrenching pain and memories of their beloved sons,” she says, “we all need to feel it and own it.”
While the filmmakers say there is still much to be done to prevent more violence, they are heartened by the shift in consciousness they’ve witnessed in the three-plus years since they began working on Newtown.
“Part of the reason why we have done these We Are All Newtown webisodes, and this campaign, is to let people know the conversation is changing among doctors, priests, law enforcement — all the people you see in our film,” the documentary’s director, Kim A. Snyder, tells PEOPLE.
Cole, the producer, adds, “What I think people can take away from this is that we have looked at problems like this in our past, like automobile accidents and smoking, and we have been able to come together with proactive, civil conversations about how to reduce deaths. That is what we want here.”
Part three of the web series also features interviews with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Tallahassee Sheriff Walt McNeil, who talk about the importance of civil dialogue on the topic of guns.
“I have some NRA friends and it’s always good to have ongoing discussions and to hear the other person’s side and their concerns,” McNeil says. “Somewhere in the middle there is the ability to compromise.”
Part two of the web series focuses on Pulse nightclub survivor Javier Nava as well as Dr. Bill Begg, an emergency room trauma surgeon who treated victims of the Newtown shooting and later testified before Congress about reforming gun laws.
The first episode focused on Pastor Sam Saylor, a minister in Hartford, Connecticut, whose 20-year-old son, Shane Oliver, was shot and killed less than two months before Sandy Hook.
Click here to contact your Congressional representatives to learn what is being done to stop the epidemic of gun violence in America — and to share what you think we should be doing.