The debate seems to slice like the Mississippi River through the center of America: you are either pro-gun or anti-gun. In this version of reality, you either want the Second Amendment repealed or you want to gear up like Rambo every time you step out to the mailbox.
Certainly, these extremists exist. But standing somewhere near the center is a huge percentage of the nation, individuals who support both a right to bear arms and some level of restrictions on that right.
It is this middle ground that seasoned Daily Show correspondent (and future late-night Comedy Central host) Jordan Klepper deftly pursues and, eventually, defines, in Jordan Klepper Solves Guns, a hilarious zig-zagging quest across the United States.
Despite its comedic undercarriage, the show is a thoughtful exploration of an important issue. “Klepper, ever the funny man, produced a serious piece of journalism filled with hard facts and relatable experiences for gun owners and anti-gun activists alike,” writes Paste’s Jacob Weindling. “It’s a special that doesn’t preach to us how similar we are, but it shows us. It is a feat of investigative journalism that is complemented by Klepper’s unique brand of humor.”
While Klepper starts his quest as a cavalier self-styled New York liberal elite promising to “solve,” guns (likely a poke at President Trump’s promise to “solve” North Korea), he is actually well-positioned to fairly explore the firearms debate. He grew up in Michigan, a politically mixed and moderate state, and his grandfather took Klepper out shooting often in his youth. His cousin Pete is an enthusiastic hunter and is featured prominently in the special.
“I came to New York and was somebody who would shoot occasionally, I’ve been to ranges here and there,” Klepper told The Daily Beast. “But guns in Michigan mean something very different from guns in New York. That was another fascinating thing and part of what I tried to poke a little fun at in this special is coming at it as an East Coast elitist who thinks all guns are bad and terrible. You go back to Michigan, you go back to the Midwest and you realize that’s not really the relationship that people have with guns. They’re not that scary.” (Having grown up in Michigan with a very similar experience before moving to New York City several years ago, I can confirm that this is an exceedingly fair and accurate description of the Midwest-East Coast dynamic surrounding this particular issue.)
Despite this nuanced viewpoint, Klepper is appalled by the staggering scale of gun violence in America, and he deftly defines its scope – 33,000 firearms deaths per year and a murder rate 25 times higher than that of any other developed nation – while outlining the challenges of reigning in the slaughter in a nation of 300 million guns: Supreme Court affirmation of a Constitutional right to bear arms, an intransigent and highly affective National Rifle Association, and government services so hobbled by an NRA-pliant Congress that the main law enforcement facility in charge of tracking guns used in crimes – the ATF Tracing Center in West Virginia – is not allowed to have computers (since electronic records would amount to a database of gun owners, something forbidden by a 1990s-era federal law).
Klepper being Klepper and this being Comedy Central, his crusade follows something of a hand-drawn cartoon treasure map in its almost absurdist segments. His team is nearly arrested when they attempt to deliver antique computers to the aforementioned Tracing Center. He suggests to an NRA lobbyist that guns symbolically represented their purchasers’ anatomical shortcomings. And in an attempt to find a moderate gun owner who he can convince to relinquish his or her guns, Klepper sequesters seven people in an ornate building for a Bachelor-style competition replete with suspenseful music, intimate talks, and a dramatic reveal of the winner.
These misadventures reach their absurdist zenith when Klepper embeds himself within a camouflage-bedecked Georgia militia where self-styled freedom fighters tag themselves with codenames such as Blood Agent and Kill Zone. Here he revisits the NRA’s “good guy with a gun” trope that he built Daily Show segments on, when the soldiers fill a dismembered pig’s head with explosive tannerite and unload on it with high-powered rifles.
“This idea that good guys with guns could make our country safer proved questionable when, after a full day of training, a dozen Georgia good guys struggled to blow up a pig’s head with over 200 rounds of ammo,” Klepper wryly observes. On the fourth try, they succeed.
Klepper has used his position as a Daily Show correspondent to explore America’s gun divide in the past.
When attempting to tell a compelling story, it can be helpful to show a character’s evolution, and Jordan Klepper Solves Guns accomplishes this beautifully. But rather than documenting the epiphanies of gun lovers-turned-haters, as was his original stated goal, Klepper articulates his own growth as he discovers that most of the firearms enthusiasts he encounters support background checks, waiting periods and better regulation of sales at gun shows. It takes a brain scan and a training session with the hugely goateed and wildly enthusiastic Army special ops vet-turned-marksmanship instructor/YouTube star Pat McNamara to accomplish this, but it is a beautiful reprieve from the toxic cultural phenomenon, unique to America, that is often described as a gun debate but is more of a standoff.
In the end, Klepper’s findings humanize this fractious stalemate, transcending caricatures and redrawing the spectrum of Second Amendment politics to look less like two groups yelling across a wide and impassable river than like people gathered about a campfire calmly talking.
With a more balanced understanding of the issues, Klepper finds a more nuanced way to try reducing gun violence than convincing gun owners that they are bad people – he aligns with action-oriented groups focused on violence prevention. He’s aggregated these organizations on a website, where viewers can join his goal of slowly reducing gun deaths.
Klepper’s show will debut at a time of growing strength for Comedy Central’s late-night lineup. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah recently recorded its most-watched week ever, and the network extended the weekly The President Show for seven more episodes. GQ has called Jim Jefferies, host of an eponymous weekly late-night show, “the funniest new guy on late-night TV.”