This weekend, two groups with competing visions of America assembled in Louisville, Kentucky.
On one side of town, at the Kentucky Exposition Center, tens of thousands of gun owners and advocates flocked to the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting. They fondled the newest firearms and tactical supplies, and listened to speakers extolling the virtues of concealed weapons and decrying gun-free zones.
On the other end of the city, at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, thousands of religious leaders and community activists joined hands for the Festival of Faiths, an interfaith coalition promoting pathways to nonviolence. Kids danced in the street, and locals grieved for loved ones lost to bullets.
On Sunday, the city woke to news of Donald Trump’s call to arm school teachers, and of a double homicide on the West End, where much of the city’s gun violence is concentrated. Neither headline came as a surprise.
In 2015, Louisville recorded its deadliest year in over three decades. From January through April, more than 150 people have been shot inside city limits, a 40 percent increase over the same period last year. As The Trace reported last week, many residents fear the bloodshed shows no signs of slowing down. One categorized the violence as an “epidemic.” Another asked, “So you think we’re doomed, as a people?”
Over the course of 48 hours on May 20 and 21, I shuttled between those two worlds documenting the dichotomy between an America advocating for arming every citizen, and one fighting to reduce the number of lives guns alter and end. This is what I saw.
LEFT: NRA lifetime member John Thayer of Winter Park, Florida. RIGHT: Jaron Teague, great uncle of the late Antonio Tharpe, who was shot to death in 2008 just weeks before starting at the University of Kentucky on an academic scholarship. Witnesses told police the shooting was over a game of dice.
LEFT: NRA member Yeonhee Thayer. RIGHT: Sherrie Miller, grandmother of the late Ne’Riah Miller, who was shot to death when she was 16 months old.
An NRA member takes an escalator in the Kentucky Exposition Center.
Dancers pass a memorial along West Broadway during a parade hosted by the Festival of Faiths.
LEFT: NRA member Marshall McEuen of Hoover, Alabama. RIGHT: Gun violence survivor Ki’Anthony Tyus, 10, who was shot in the leg when he was 9 years old, playing basketball near downtown Louisville.
LEFT: NRA member Brandon Meneese of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. RIGHT: Cierra Miller, mother of the late Ne’Riah Miller.
Fans gather for the NRA Country Jam at the Belvedere at Louisville Waterfront Park.
Two women walk past a crime scene early Saturday morning on the corner of 29th street and Greenwood Avenue, the same location where 25-year-old Channing Todd was shot in the head just days earlier. Todd died two days later.
LEFT: NRA member Vance Hamlin of French Lick, Indiana. RIGHT: Festival of Faiths attendee John Martin of Ossining, New York.
LEFT: NRA member George Kokendoffer, of Mustang, Oklahoma. RIGHT: Festival of Faiths attendee Rhody Streeter.
[All photographs by Kyle Grillot for The Trace]