Bang! Bang! My feature shot me down.

Again, I’ll open with a song. I’m in a rut, but this one was too good to avoid:

For the last month I’ve been working with co-editor Andrea Braxton on a multiple-part feature on Columbia’s gun culture. As it turns out, mid-Missourians love their guns.

Many Missourians feel the same way as Annette Bening in American Beauty: “I LOVE SHOOTING THIS GUN!” I doubt they look that crazy, though.

The feature started out as a 16-story collection written by an Intermediate Writing class. Their stories covered everything you could think of gun-related: a list of gun shops/ranges in the area, kids’ sports shooting, the influx of women involved with guns, hunting, how to get a concealed weapons permit, what to do if attacked by someone with a gun, how guns are represented in art, how to buy a gun, the ways the police use guns. Guns, guns, guns.

GUNS.

Time for some background: I’m a Chicagoan who interned for an urban issues magazine over a summer with record-high shootings. My project was an article on gun violence and foster children. I grew up seeing guns as terrifying and only “cool” in the movies when being handled by people like Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood. Needless to say, I’m anti-gun and glad/scared as hell that Illinois is the only state that doesn’t grant concealed weapons permits.

That being said, editing a feature of nothing but pro-gun stories was tough, and I could tell a lot of the writers and editors working on the package felt the same way I do toward America’s lack of gun control laws. We all had to put those biases aside, however, and from the reactions we’ve been receiving, we did a pretty good job of it. Even a blind, gun-shy woman hits the target once in a while, I guess.

When we read through all 16 stories, we recognized that we had nothing but “yay, guns!” viewpoints. Only some brushed on the anti-gun position, and none cited human sources who said anything favoring stricter gun control. For a piece we had hoped would feature all sides of gun culture, it had its scope focused on only one group of people; those who see guns as power, protection and pleasure. Some drafts were great and some — to continue the gun puns — missed the mark. We whittled the list down to 11 stories in total, a bit more manageable for two editors also in charge of their department’s content for the week.

After about two weeks of back-and-forth editing sessions with the reporters, Andrea and I were given full reign to “take ownership” of the stories. This was something new to me as an editor; as a writer, I hate when editors make drastic changes to my work without my knowledge. Still, I had to switch out my reporter’s cap for my editor’s crown. The concealed weapons story took a whole new reformatting to make it more readable. For good measure, however, I called reporter Jamie Hergenrader in to explain what changes were being made. She was entirely accommodating, a real blessing to a feature editor still struggling to exercise all the (fire)power she’s been given.

Then we had the police and guns story, which required a Sunshine Request. It was my first time filing one, and we ended up hitting the bulls-eye and getting the exact information we needed.

But the bias issue was still hanging over our heads. We didn’t want to make Vox look pro-gun, especially since many of its staff and readers are actually pro-gun control. That’s why Andrea and I penned a brief opening to the package discussing the anti-gun side that, despite its absence in the writing, does exist in Columbia.

Then began production. Monday and Tuesday nights in the office, about seven hours of work each, plus early Wednesday morning galley reads and afternoon web uploading made up probably 24 solid hours of producing the stories in print. I called more than 20 sources for fact checking. Andrea called even more.

Is it any wonder we looked like this on Tuesday night? Drawing by Andrea Braxton before we left Tuesday production only to return six hours later.

But once every page was sent to the printer and every story had been posted online, linked to the splashpage (an interactive homepage for just the feature) designed by our multimedia designer and Tweeted out to Vox‘s 2,921 followers, we were done.

Documentation of our exhausted joy.

But the story doesn’t end there. The bullet keeps flying. We’ve got another production week ahead. I’m already gearing up for my first solo feature slated for the Dec. 20 issue. Andrea is hard at work on her next feature, due out close to Thanksgiving. The gun keeps reloading, and we keep hoping that we’ll continue to hit the bulls-eye.

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