Wallace teaches in a part of Baltimore where gun violence is so common that in the space of 15 months, seven of the students at her high school were shot dead. Atop a massage table during a sea cruise she had booked hoping to escape reality, “I just cried,” Wallace says. “The masseuse thought she hurt me.” The 63-year-old views guns as a plague that needs to be eradicated.
In suburban New Carrollton, Chester lives in regret that she did not have a gun at hand, and know how to use it, the day 10 years ago that her ex-boyfriend shot her. She lost her right leg and her unborn child. “It could have changed my whole story,” says Chester, 31 and a “firm believer” in the Second Amendment. She wants other women to be empowered to take the action she could not.
Even though they may disagree on guns, their opinions are grounded in lived experience and expressed with a sincerity and respect often missing in the national debate. That was the most consistent takeaway from TIME’s project on guns, an undertaking that involved three cities and 245 people over five months. The artist JR assembled the mural on this week’s cover from separate photographs of every participant, each with a distinct view on firearms. They were situated in a tableau that evokes not only the spirit of debate associated with the Founding Fathers but something else as well—the unity that flows from a sense of shared enterprise. We saw the same thing in St. Louis; in Washington, D.C.; and in Dallas: We’re all in this together.
Owning a gun remains one of the oldest and in many places most cherished traditions in America, but it’s no longer as commonplace as it was 230 years ago. The right to “keep and bear arms” with a “well-regulated militia” was regarded as so central to the notion of liberty that it came second in the Bill of Rights only to the freedom to think and speak.