Karl Jacob is the writer and director of “Cold November,” a feature film about a 12-year-old girl being raised by women who is taken through her first deer hunt starring the magnetic breakout actress Bijou Abas. The film is available on iTunes, Amazon and Vimeo on Demand now.
The first film I co-directed, “Pollywogs,” played at the LA Film Festival in 2013. There is one scene in the movie where three family members are casually putting away guns after target practice. As a director, this action was a natural choice, since it provided a reasonable backdrop for the conversation the characters were having about a bad breakup that turned angry, but not violent.
After our premiere screening, there were several viewers that were not only taken aback, but wholly disturbed by the casual treatment the guns received in that scene. They also were confused that no one got hurt by one of the weapons. It was in this moment that I started thinking about writing my next project, “Cold November.” It’s a story I have been thinking about for almost 22 years, but that moment at LAFF shined light on the need for the story to be told, and a role it could have in illuminating a unique Minnesota childhood, and the culture surrounding it.
I am a socialist-minded vegetarian who lives in New York City, and I own several guns. I have rifles, shotguns and handguns. I use them almost exclusively for target practice at this point, and have acquired all of them legally through an official purchasing processes with background checks or as an inheritance.
I am the fourth generation of iron mine workers, farmers and laborers from northern Minnesota, and our lives were built around survival. My family was fairly poor when I was growing up. We lived lives of modern pioneers, holding on to the lesson passed down from generation to generation that we needed to take care of ourselves and each other if we were to survive the onslaught of nature.
One threat we faced is how cold Minnesota is in the winter. Freezing to death if your car stalls is such a real possibility that they taught us in school how to create a “roadside survival kit” to keep in each of our vehicles. Continual poverty also came quickly for many, as the mines would lay off hordes of workers with little to no notice, plummeting families into situations that warranted living off the land for indefinite amounts of time. It’s hard to grow vegetables year-round up there, so hunting is naturally where people would turn to keep food on the table and their families alive. I was taught not to be afraid, but to be careful and prepared for what mother nature, employer or government could suddenly dish out.
America has a gun problem, America is in an economic crisis, and these phenomena are interrelated: In 2014, income inequality reached levels not seen since the great depression, and the trend has continued. There is no sign of a New Deal coming anytime soon. The uptick in people needing food support from the government or some other means is real. The last two years have also seen more terrorist-like gun violence targeted at schools and other safe spaces than any other time in US history. As a result, people who own guns for survival feel threatened by the upheaval of anti-gun rhetoric, and I get that.
There is no question that hunters should be able to buy and keep guns. I also get that disgruntled teenagers should not be allowed to purchase assault weapons. I personally would love to see assault weapons disappear from gun shelves altogether. If someone wants a military grade weapon, they should join the military. It really should be that simple.
As for the hunters: I can understand, because of my learned survival awareness, the important role that guns play in supporting the actual day-to-day sustenance that some families currently require to put food on the table. For those of you who are unfamiliar with hunt-to-table culture, in addition to people who hunt for immediate survival, there is also a growing awareness and discussion around how harvesting your own food is falling in line with modern healthy eating trends. Along with urban rooftop vegetables, wild game, killed and prepared by local purveyors, or even yourself, falls right into the food safety, anti-factory meat camp in a salient way.
It would be inaccurate to think of America’s forests and plains as wild, untamed acres; they’re more like “free roaming” game farms that are overseen by the state and federal government (which in some cases is having its own issues, but that’s another conversation). For the most part, states’ Departments of Natural Resources are well-functioning organizations that take great pride in the monitoring and preservation of the plants and animals on these semi-tamed zones. Interestingly, the way they get their funding is largely from the hunters who take it upon themselves to harvest game off the land—a task that would have to be undertaken expensively by the DNR themselves if not for volunteer hunters. Through the purchasing of game licenses, these natural places are financially sustained, thereby adding an additional benefit to leaning-in to hunting as an extension of farm-to table conservation. But back to the guns.
When I purchased my first gun in New York, after a year-long review process, intense background checks, fingerprinting, and interrogation, I was shocked at what came next. Remember, I was raised in a culture where everyone had a gun as a farming tool. As a result, we were trained from the age of 11 — in a classroom setting — how to own, care for, and safely use a gun. In New York, they vetted me so intensely as a potential criminal that it felt uncomfortable, but when I finally got approval to own a gun, the issuing agent surprised me when I asked what state programs were provided to train us licensed citizens to understand the local laws and use guns safely. “Oh honey,” she said, “we don’t provide any of that. Just look on the internet for how to use a gun.” This simple educational disconnect in the case of New York seems like one example of where we could start analyzing and changing the way gun ownership is treated and how licensed owners are trained before certification.
I’m not entirely sure what the nuanced opinions of many of my friends and colleagues are when it comes to gun ownership, but I am assuming that not everyone wants to completely ban firearms in this country. I am also concerned about the slippery slope of an overzealous government exerting violent force over its citizens for things that don’t warrant injury or death—an argument toted by the NRA. It’s hard to predict what this or the next administration will suddenly deem an illegal action, thereby stoking fear in people both with and without guns.
For the record, I’m not a fan of the NRA’s current open-ended vigilance when it comes to Second Amendment rights: It’s distracting and harmful. Instead, I believe that guns can remain a part of society with proper education and public safety as guiding forces. My son will start attending a public school in a couple of years. The thought of that school having a disgruntled teenager walk into it and randomly shoot anyone in sight is not something I can live with. Nor do I feel that giving every teacher a handgun is a good solution. It’s a stupid idea that only adds more potential for lethal violence.
I was an angry teenager who owned several guns once. I also killed my first big animal—a deer—when I was 12 years old. (I revisit that moment, through a fictionalized character, in “Cold November.”) I watched that animal die, after a brief moment of suffering, and looked it in the eye when life had left its body. I field dressed and butchered that deer. I can tell you that the act of killing that animal, understanding the power of my gun, and watching life leave its body, was a profound lesson in death. I can also tell you that any tiny inkling I may have had to ever want to turn my gun on a human was immediately vaporized in that moment.
Perhaps the youth of America could also learn from this lesson, and thereby release this desire they have for blood in a positive way that does more to better society and themselves while keeping our schools safe. In this structured application, guns could be the answer to the gun problem.