First-Person Target: A Six-Part Series on Fear and Safety in the Era of Mass Shootings

Welcome to the home page for the “First-Person Target” series, a participatory journalism experience aimed at exploring the issues of mass shootings, the right to carry, personal safety, gun culture and more. The links to all six installments are at the bottom of this page.

This project started for me three years ago, as I explain in Day 1, but the rubber really met the road for me a few months back when I realized how many mass shootings had taken place in the types of places where I worked, taught and visited. I also realized I had no good way of verbalizing or understanding the issues associated with fear and safety that drove some people to call for mass armament and others to call for a gun ban. All I knew is that we weren’t really discussing (as in listening as well as talking) these issues very well.

In attempt to jar something loose in my own mind and maybe spur others to speak out, I spent a nearly a week (Nov. 2-7) wearing a bulletproof vest everywhere I went. I had no idea what it would evoke in me personally and what it would bring about in the people with whom I interacted. I didn’t even know what I wanted to accomplish at that point. I just thought it could be a starting point for something worthwhile.

After that week of participation, I sought a wide array of perspectives from people who aren’t “the usual suspects” in the debates we have in this country. Instead, I looked for people who I felt would have a unique insight, a willingness to talk honestly, the ability to avoid the standard soundbites/talking points and who had some connection to the actions I was taking while wearing the vest. I wasn’t seeking “sides,” but rather looking for the feelings of thoughtful people who I hoped might improve my understanding about the topic or teach me something unexpected.

(To understand the “rules” I set up for myself in regard to wearing the vest and conducting the interview, click here.)

For the daily material, I relied on notes taken after each interaction I outlined in the piece, fleshing out descriptions by revisiting the scene of these interactions or taking pictures of them at the time. Additional research was used to augment observed details in the writing.

Interviews with each participant were recorded with the participant’s knowledge and agreement. Quotes from these sources were drawn from notes taken during those interviews and reviews of the recordings. Dialogue is based on notes and recall from the daily events and supported by further discussions with the individuals involved to clarify or check on the accuracy of my recall.

The interview subjects and the order in which they occur in the series tie directly to the daily experiences I had at each point and the order should not be taken as order of importance or a lean toward bias. For example, on Day Two, I attended church and thus my interview with Sister Pam Biehl runs as a part of that day’s piece. Had I attended church on Day One or Day Five, her interview would have ended up there.

One last thing: Please feel free to email me with any questions, comments or concerns you have through the contact link here. I only ask the following:

  1. Enter with an open mind and read the WHOLE thing before you think I skipped your point of view.
  2. If you think I suck or I failed, fine. Tell me WHY you think that. There is always room for revision and improvement in any piece of journalism.

Without further ado, here are the days:

Special thanks are due to Tracy Everbach, Sister Pam Biehl, Chance Duenkel, Chase Cook, Joe Peterson, Nate Nelson and Kelly Furnas for their time and honesty in their interviews. Thanks to Kelly Lash, Chance Swaim and Margaret Done for their work. Thanks to Chief Kurt Leibold and Sara Steffes Hansen for their support and encouragement. Also, there is no way this project would be half as good as is without Allison Sansone, who helped me rework major sections of this and had no fear about telling me when stuff needed to get rewritten. She is the best editor and an even better friend.

Most of all, I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the help of my wife, Amy, who never once told me I was insane for trying this. And, of course, Zoe, my favorite peanut, whose presence is a joy, whether I’m wearing a bulletproof vest or not.