Kris Koenig didn't set out to make a film about gun control.
As it turns out though, the former PBS documentarian and Emmy Award winning filmmaker is delivering a poignant statement on the national gun control debate in his new documentary, Assaulted: Civil Rights Under Fire.
Koenig, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran who grew up in a military family, was originally working on a film about California gangs, when a firsthand experience motivated him to change course in more ways than one.
"I was on a ride-along with a sheriff while studying the NorteÃ±o gang in northern California," he said. "That's when [the sheriff] asked if I had a carry permit€¦I soon discovered the challenges of obtaining a concealed carry license in California."
After researching the subject, it was clear to Koenig that all California residents are not created equal when it comes to firearm ownership. That idea became "the genesis of this film," and drove the director toward a new goal.
Just as he began work on his new endeavor the high-profile shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., shifted his focus altogether — Koenig originally focused his efforts on a more regional slant to gun control.
"I was immediately faced with the dilemma of re-focusing the film from regional and mechanical aspects of guns," he said, "to the broader national discussion of guns in terms of civil rights."
Koenig then began investigating events in American history that involved firearms, and with a keen eye for fact-finding, began to make connections to today's gun control talking points. He used the National Firearms Act's affect on civil liberties to provide a more tangible connection to DC vs. Heller, the Los Angeles race riots and Hurricane Katrina. The story began to come together.
"It took a long time to make this documentary; it was still at the editor just two weeks ago, because I hired a lawyer to go through and fact check everything in the film," he said.
Next up was the ever-important task of finding a narrator. Koenig wanted a voice that would deliver a humble, yet articulate tone, and compliment the film's objective analysis of Second Amendment rights.
"I saw Ice-T on a TV show one morning and immediately I knew he was the voice for the film," Koenig said. Later that day he was eating lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Southern California with co-producer and editor Eric Katzenberg, when the topic of Ice-T stirred an idea.
"What are the odds of us getting Ice-T? I'd really love to get him," Koenig asked his editor. In the middle of eating a taco, Katzenberg replied, "I know his agent real well. You want me to call him?"
Five days later, they were out in Las Vegas doing the reading with Ice.
"Ice's stories and his music really fit the message I was targeting. His music career and protest song during the L.A. riot period connected him to that message," Koenig explained. "He also connects us to an aspect of the population that we wouldn't normally reach if he weren't involved, and now we're getting those folks interested in the film."
As with every independent endeavor, Koenig's film faced funding challenges throughout, but inspiration and support from unlikely sources kept things afloat.
"We started by maxing out our credit cards, then we went on to raise nearly $150,000 from two separate Kickstarter campaigns," he said. "Once the film was almost complete, we sold a quarter of our share to investors to provide the money for distributing the content."
Assaulted: Civil Rights Under Fire is now showing in AMC theaters on a limited basis, but those who want to bring the film to their town have a unique chance to make it happen.
"Tugg.com is a new way for independent filmmakers to get their films out to the marketplace," Koenig explained. "It's done on demand and is similar to crowd sourcing; people sign up and say they want the film to come to their town, and then Tugg arranges a showing at a specific place and time. You need at least 40 or 60 ticket sales to get the film shown at that theater."
The only thing that remains to be determined is how the mainstream media will react to Assaulted.
"We want [the media] to take a moment and watch it, and then get into a factual conversation not based around emotion," Koenig stated. "Hopefully the recent events with the IRS and NSA will cause people to look at the government a little differently."
Unlike controversial filmmakers like Michael Moore, Koenig's vision for his film is simple and absolute. All that's left now is for viewers to fill the seats and spread the word.
"My intention is that [Assaulted: Civil Rights Under Fire] will detach people from the emotional debate, and initiate a level-headed discussion about gun rights."
Find a showing of the film in your area at the home page for Assaulted: Civil Rights Under Fire, or at Tugg.com.
Here's a sneak peek at some of the people who make appearances in the film:
Alan Gottlieb, Second Amendment Foundation
Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation
gives his perspective on the right to bear arms in the film. Representing one side of the gun control debate.
His foundation is on the front lines of the pro-gun movement.
Alan Samuel, Owner of Machine Gun Tours
The film examines the perspective of gun dealers, many of whom have been dramatically affected by recent anti-gun legislation.
Chris Cheng, Top Shot Champion
season four champion Chris Cheng weighs in on his experiences as a professional shooter.
Gene Hoffman, Chairman of Cal Guns Foundation
Chairman of the Calguns Foundation
protects the rights of Californians against some of the most oppressive anti-gun politicians in the country.
Joann Guidos, Survivor of Hurricane Katrina
Joann Guidos explains how she defended herself and others during Hurricane Katrina.
The film addresses the civil rights perspectives of people who witnessed Second Amendment infringements.
Kris Koenig Hard at Work
Koenig prepares his equipment while filming in New Orleans.
"My background is producing content dealing with scientific issues, so we approached the film like a scientific documentary," Koenig said. "The film is always fact-based, with 2-3 sources to back up that information."
Director, Kris Koenig
Kris Koenig is an Emmy Award winning director and producer who delivers a poignant statement on the gun control debate in his new documentary, Assaulted: Civil Rights Under Fire.
According to Koenig, "The idea that not all Californians are created equal, was the genesis of this film."
Margot Bennett, Executive Director of Women Against Gun Violence
Margot Bennett from Women Against Gun Violence
makes an argument for the other side of the gun control debate from a female perspective.
Stephen Byrum, Historian
Historians and lawyers document the facts Koenig illustrates in the film.
Koenig explained, 'It took a long time to make this documentary; it was still at the editor just two weeks ago, because I hired a lawyer to go through and fact check everything in the film."
Famous rock star and hunter, Ted Nugent, is one of the most prominent gun rights advocates in the nation today. His presence in this film was a must.
Dan Gross, Brady Campaign, President
President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
, Dan Gross, discusses how he believes tighter gun laws can reduce violence.
The unique civil rights perspective of the film takes a level-headed approach to a debate which is usually clouded with emotion.
Koenig said, "We actually had a lot of cooperation from people on both sides of the argument."