MTV 'True Life' Documentary to Focus on Gun Owners

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

( - MTV, Music Television, has become known more for its "reality" shows and political activism than for playing music videos over the past decade. That trend will continue Thursday night with the airing of the latest episode of the network's "True Life" documentary series: "True Life: I'm a Gun Owner." While some firearms enthusiasts are giving MTV the benefit of the doubt, many gun rights advocates are already questioning the objectivity of the program.

MTV's "True Life" documentary series has told the "remarkable real-life stories of young people and the unusual subcultures they inhabit" -- from a homosexual couple getting "married" in Massachusetts to young people "living a lie" by concealing their multiple, simultaneous romantic relationships or their sexual preference.

The Dec. 29 episode examines how "guns are changing the lives of four young people in very different ways," according to a promotional "blurb" emailed to Cybercast News Service by MTV publicist Diane Domondon.

"While most gun owners are responsible, on average every hour someone between the ages of 15 and 28 is cut down by a bullet," the promotional statement continued. "Whether it's for protection, crime or sport, guns are having a deep effect on the youth of our nation."

The promotional announcement did not indicate whether the phrase "cut down by a bullet" included injuries or only deaths. It also did not indicate whether the statistic included accidents or legitimate self-defense shootings by law enforcement officers and civilians.

The program features a convicted felon, a gang member, a hunter and a crime victim who is now an advocate of armed self-defense to present the various sides of the gun debate. Several gun rights advocates immediately challenged MTV's math.

"It's a bit offensive that 50 percent of the people they've chosen to feature as being 'gun owners' are people who are obviously breaking the law and probably acquired their firearms illegally," Erich Pratt of Gun Owners of America said of the gang member and the convict. "When you look at the statistics, it's only a fraction of 1 percent of the 'gun owners' in the country who ever use firearms in an illegitimate way."

Joe Waldron of the Citizens' Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms said dividing the program's attention evenly between legitimate use and criminal misuse of firearms "really isn't balanced."

"Because, overwhelmingly, the typical handgun or the typical firearm is not used in a crime," Waldron explained. "What they should be doing is having interviews with something like 100 good gun owners and then one gangbanger, which would put it more into perspective."

Data from the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate that approximately two-tenths of 1 percent of firearms available in the U.S. are used annually in the commission of a crime.

One of the founding members of the Second Amendment Sisters, Mari Thompson, said she is particularly disturbed by MTV's choice to feature a gang member in the program.

"If they know that these people are gangbangers and have these weapons, probably illegally, then they should not be putting them on TV. They should be giving their names and whereabouts to law enforcement," Thompson said. "Whoever has that kind of information, it's their duty to report that ... instead of putting them on TV, for goodness sakes."

A representative of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said the organization would prefer not to comment on the program without having seen it but would provide analysis later. A voicemail message for the anti-gun Violence Policy Center said the organization's offices are closed for the remainder of the year.

Marshall Eisen, MTV's executive producer for the program, was not available for comment. MTV was not able to provide Cybercast News Service with a review copy of the program, according to Domondon, because the final edit had not been completed. The production company that filmed, edited and field produced the documentary -- Shadowbox Films in New York -- referred all questions to MTV.

Pratt hopes that, despite what he sees as predetermined bias from the network, MTV will treat the two law-abiding gun owners fairly.

"Especially the young lady who is clearly interested in using guns for self-defense, that's extremely important since gun owners will use a firearm in self-defense about 7,000 times a day," Pratt said. "Obviously, that's people's best defense in a moment of crisis."

"Hopefully, she will be an articulate spokesperson for our side of the issue," Waldron added. "Then, of course, obviously, the question is: 'Are the good, pithy things going to make it onto the editing room floor, or are they going to come out over the air?'"

MTV's "True Life: I'm a Gun Owner" is scheduled for Thursday at 10 p.m. (Eastern). Cybercast News Service will publish a follow-up report detailing reaction to the program on Friday, Dec. 30.

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