40 Sites in 25 Days: Reflecting on Gun Violence and Security Guards

Updated: Oct 15

Photos by Maureen Cain. Words by Shannon Cain.

San Bernardino, California. Site of an Islamic terrorist attack on December 2, 2015. Fourteen people were killed and 22 others were seriously injured.

This winter, Maureen and I accomplished two trips on the United States of Ammunition Photo Tour. We spent 25 days of December and January on the road, the whole American enchilada: rest stops and gas stations and Airbnbs and local diners and chain hotels.

The first leg, just before Christmas, took us north to Colorado, then through the midwest and southern states, looping around in Florida and the Gulf Coast region before the long trek through Texas and back to Tucson. The second trip, right after New Year's, had us hugging the western coastline from San Diego to Seattle. In all, we added 13 new states to the list and visited 40 new sites of gun violence.

Before we started on our trip I understood my role as an emotional support sibling, but beyond this task I assumed my duties would consist principally of assembling snacks of sliced fruit and cheese and crackers from the passenger seat, as our mother did on family road trips when we were kids.

Soon enough I would become the project’s public liaison, documentarian, lodging coordinator, emergency navigator, photographer’s assistant and lookout. I have things to say about all of this. Today: some thoughts on security guards.

Colorado Springs, Colorado. Planned Parenthood where a male anti-abortion extremist killed three people and injured nine more in a mass shooting in 2015.

Among the places in America where loitering is most actively discouraged are Planned Parenthood parking lots. We sat in the car for a minute, planning. There was a snowbank behind us. The security guard stood inside the lobby, eyeing us through the glass. The sole anti choice protester with her disgusting signs lurked way out on the corner, behind the yellow line. The parking lot was nearly empty. Surely it wasn’t uncommon for people to linger in their car here, I thought, before a procedure.

We inhaled, hustled out of the car toward the snowbank. Maureen threw herself on the icy ground, focusing her lens. I’d planted only a handful of pink casings in the snow before the guard was out of the lobby and striding toward us. I stepped forward, intercepted him with a jovial hello and an introduction and pulled some of our postcards out of my pocket. As I blabbed at him about who-we-are-and-what-we’re-doing and nodded in mock innocence at his explanation as to why we couldn’t do it, Maureen was behind me in the snowbank, getting her shot. And when the guard saw through my ruse and told Maureen he was sorry, he really didn’t want to be that guy, he sympathized with what we were doing, but company policy, private property, yellow line, etcetera: she’d have to delete the photos.

Then he said, out of the blue: "I was there that day. The day of the shooter. I was on duty."

"Wow," I managed, stupidly.

Later we’d learn what to say when people tell us this.

"The reason we can’t stop mass shootings," he let us know, "is that they won’t let us put more armed guards in public spaces."

Maureen shrugged and said, "Anyway okay, no problem, I’ll delete the photos. I really couldn't get the shot anyway, the building is too far off." Frowning at the camera she poked at a few buttons. "Honestly I really don’t even know how this thing works, but sure, no big deal. I’ll delete them."

He glanced noncommittally at her camera. "Okay," he said. "Have a nice day."

Atlanta, Georgia. Office building where a male day trader went on a killing spree in 1999, murdering 12 people and injuring 13 more.

We got away with shenanigans. You must understand that to find the right angle on these very small bullet casings, Maureen usually needs to lay flat on the ground, her face in the dirt/grass/pavement/sand. Across 19 states of America she has been prone in office parks, in parking lots, in plazas, on sidewalks, in gutters, in the forest, in the waves, and on landscaped hillocks outside professional business-like buildings.

Despite this nutso public behavior (more on this later, don’t fret), it will come as a surprise to nobody that we, two middle aged white women, were shown consistent politeness and respect by the private security forces of America. Often they showed up in golf carts. They asked us nicely what we were doing. We said we’re artists. Sometimes we showed them our postcards. We assured them we weren’t taking pictures of anybody’s signs or logos.

Commercial interests protected, they usually said, "Okay. Have a nice day."

Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Site where a homeless couple was shot and killed. This photo was taken two days after the double murder. The shooter is still unknown.

In Baton Rouge a security guard approached us warily as we loitered under the freeway overpass. Two white ladies with their faces against the chain link. He worked in the building next door.

Police tape still clung to the chain link. The murders happened just the day before yesterday. It was he who discovered the bodies, he told us. He heard the shots, came to investigate. It was early in the morning. They'd been shot as they slept. "The woman, though," he said. "I think she woke up."

Before he left he told us out he’d come over to see if perhaps we were family to the victims. To offer his condolences.

On the exit ramp over our heads, freeway traffic whooshed noisily on. This time, Maureen knew what to say: "What was that like for you?"

"It’s rough," he said. "I think I’ve got a little PTSD. The sound of sirens."

Orlando, Florida. Pulse Nightclub where a man killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in the deadliest incident of violence against the LGBT community in US history.
The Pulse Memorial security guard was a paid employee of the nonprofit that now owns the building. She wore a sidearm, a bulletproof vest and a rainbow peace button. She was authoritative, chatty and compassionate. "Haters would trash this place," she told us, "if not for the 24/7 security. Nearly 4 years after the shooting and people still come, lots of them, every day."

She wasn’t there that night, but she knew of people who lost friends. "It’s a community, here in Orlando." When people come to the memorial she talks to them, listens to their stories. When they want solitude she just leaves them alone and walks the perimeter, guarding space for their grief.

See more photos at United States of Ammunition.

Gun violence data from www.gunviolencearchive.com, www.giffords.org, ww.wikipedia.org, and www.everytown.org

For media or partnership inquiries, please contact maureen@thecainagency.com. All images (c) Maureen Cain 2019

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