How New Drama ‘Shooter’ Handles Gun Use

It's no secret that fatal police shootings and gun violence in general is an unfortunate reality in the United States. So while USA's Shooter, a series following trained military sniper Bob Lee Swagger (played by Ryan Phillippe), was set to premiere in July, it got pushed to November due to real-life tragedies involving guns. For those worried that it's still not the right time, while chatting with Bustle, series star Shantel VanSanten says Shooter doesn't "glorify gun use" and thinks that instead it opens up an important conversation about guns.

"It does not glorify gun use," says the actor who plays Julie Swagger, Bob Lee's wife, mother to their daughter, and a fighter for herself and her family. "It centers on a U.S. military veteran and he's a hero and he's fighting injustice. It doesn't in any way, shape, or form mimic what was going on in our world." Not to say that it doesn't mimic our world at all, but Shooter features a different type of gun use compared to the violence that was seen on July 5 with the fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and the police killing of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota on July 6.

In August 2015, Shooter was officially given a pilot order and cast Phillippe as Bob Lee, a character in Stephen Hunter’s novel Point of Impact, who was also played by Mark Wahlberg in the 2007 film, also titled Shooter. The show was set to premiere in July, but then on July 11 it got pushed to a later date in July due to the July 7 sniper shooting in Dallas, Texas where five police officers were shot and killed during a Black Lives Matter protest. "In light of recent tragic events and out of respect for the victims, their families and our viewers, we have decided to postpone the premiere date for the upcoming USA Network series Shooter to July 26," a network spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter in July. Then, on July 18, USA announced it wouldn't premiere Shooter until the fall.

VanSanten believes it was the right decision to push back the series. "I fully supported the decision," she says. "I completely stand behind wanting to push it, because of respecting the victims and the families and for the viewers, as well. It was also like, is there ever going to be a right time?"

During the opening scene of Shooter's premiere, there is a powerful quote said by Bob Lee that should resonate with viewers: "Guns change everything and a bullet is forever." Those eight words show that the series is so much bigger than an action-packed drama about a Marine sniper who is framed for a plot to kill the president. That's how VanSanten feels, too.

"I do think so," she says about whether or not she believes the 10-episode series is sending a bigger message, especially with the use of Phillippe's character. "I think that they wanted to start a rhetoric within it about how Bob Lee is a trained veteran. He is a trained Marine sniper and everything that his character embodies — he respects the understanding that what a bullet does and what guns are." His understanding of guns and when to use them is something that viewers will pick up on immediately in the premeire's first scene, which features a wolf, Bob Lee and two hunters, who clearly don't know anything about guns.

The former star of The Flash continues about Bob Lee,

"The purpose that his character has used [guns] for in the past was to defend our country and to defend our rights. I think that as people meet and know Bob Lee, he's the heart of the story and what he's fighting for is really what I feel most Americans also feel, which is that freedom should exist. It is a conspiracy thriller, it is a big action show and that's where the entertainment value comes in, but there is a bigger message."

VanSanten hopes that one day there won't even need to be a conversation about gun violence. "Unfortunately, the world we live in, [I don't know] if those things will ever go away. I pray that they do, because it was incredibly unfortunate."

Obviously, having an entire series revolve around a sniper and to even have the title be Shooter may not sit well with some people, but, based on the pilot and emphasized by the powerful opening quote from Bob Lee, it sure seems like the drama is doing its best to educate viewers that guns are serious and should never be taken lightly.

Shooter premieres Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 10 p.m. EST on USA.

Image: Dean Buscher (2)/USA Network