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Bowling for Columbine, it's not about guns

By Dr. Michael S. Brown
web posted November 11, 2002

Bowling for Columbine is the latest offering from proudly liberal-left filmmaker Michael Moore. It is generally described as an anti-gun documentary, but I found that description to be very misleading. I was expecting a brilliant and persuasive propaganda production. What I experienced was a funny, rambling inquisition that never really came to any conclusion.

Michael Moore is an amiable slob with a wicked sense of humor who has one of the best jobs in the world. He gets to make silly movies that include all his personal prejudices and half-formed ideas about how the world really works. He interviews people and edits the footage to make them look like saints, idiots or psychopaths; it's his choice. He never has to justify his positions or answer tough questions, because he has full creative control.

The best part of this movie is a hilarious three minute animated short that offers Moore's abridged version of American history beginning with the arrival of the Pilgrims. It attributes every major historical event to racism. I never would have guessed that such an insulting oversimplification could be so funny. The only thing lacking was the voice of Homer Simpson as narrator.

Michael Moore

Yet Moore can be right on target, as he was when he examined the way television news organizations exploit violent crimes and how this sows fear in the population. His behind-the-scenes peek at a network news reporter broadcasting from a satellite truck at the scene of a violent crime is priceless. He also managed to include his favorite topic, racism, by showing how black men are demonized as dangerous criminals.

Unfortunately, Moore devoted much of the film to demonizing harmless, law-abiding gun owners and the NRA. It was never made clear exactly why he disliked them so much, but he obviously felt comfortable denigrating certain groups while protesting the similar treatment of others. One of his odious methods was to interview people from the lunatic fringe of the gun culture, then cut to images of mainstream gun owners and their organizations. Imagine Moore's outrage if a wacko right wing filmmaker used the same technique to associate responsible African-American citizens with radical black racists.

It was interesting to note that Moore did not challenge the Second Amendment. Perhaps his lack of respect for American culture and history makes it irrelevant in his view. Even more notable was the fact that he failed to propose a single new gun control law.

What was most surprising was the fact that Moore never actually blamed violence on the availability of guns. I thought he would surely trumpet this axiom of liberal dogma, but he repeatedly pointed out that Canadians have almost as many guns per capita as we Americans do, while shooting each other in far smaller numbers.

One of his explanations for this difference was the influence of the Canadian welfare state, which he felt keeps single Canadian moms home raising their children. Moore believes that American welfare reform has forced many single moms to work, leaving children unattended and prone to violence. He seems to have missed the fact that violent crime decreased dramatically in the 1990's as welfare reform was phased in.

He never actually said what he blamed for gun violence in America, but he flashed on screen a number of the most guilt-producing factors that plague the minds of hand-wringing liberals. He is obviously quite upset with each and every example of American involvement in foreign conflicts. He made several hostile references to corporate greed, fraud, and profits from manufacturing military hardware. And of course all white people (except him) are racists.

Although billed as an anti-gun documentary, Bowling for Columbine is really a vehicle to display Moore's outrage at what he sees as an inherently violent, racist and insufficiently liberal American culture.

Since Moore does not blame guns for violence in America, it is puzzling why he takes such vicious cheap shots at people associated with guns. He seemed to wander on a haphazard quest to lay the blame for the Columbine massacre on someone other than those who perpetrated it. He blamed Lockheed for making Minuteman ICBMs not far from Columbine High School. He blamed K-Mart for selling the ammunition that was used. Then he talked his way into Charlton Heston's home and essentially blamed him.

The strange logic behind these mean-spirited gambits may lie in the intended audience for the film. The people in the nearly full theater with me were all white and all liberal. You could practically smell the liberal guilt and the cloying odor of political correctness. Corporations and the NRA are among the most evil demons of their mythology and make popular targets.

There was audible outrage in the theater when Moore tricked Charlton Heston into speculating on a reason why gun violence is so much greater in America than it is in Canada. As any criminologist knows, American gun violence is highly concentrated in young Black and Latino men. Violence among the white population is roughly similar between the two countries. This sad fact is not open to discussion because it is not politically correct to mention it in polite society. Ironically, this inability to address the problem may condemn many more young men to an early death.

The film is satisfying for liberal viewers and funny to anyone who appreciates Michael Moore's sense of humor, as I do. But one does not come away with any answers. Moore is just as confused as everyone else. Perhaps more so, because he is locked into a leftist ideology that fails to adequately explain human behavior.

I can't help but wonder if this lack of sharp focus is related to the events of 9-11 which occurred as Moore was finishing the film. He posted the following statement on his website immediately after the shocking attacks.

"This started out as a documentary on gun violence in America, but the largest mass murder in our history was just committed -- without the use of a single gun! Not a single bullet fired! ... I can't stop thinking about this. A thousand gun control laws would not have prevented this massacre. What am I doing?"

I think Moore is too honest to be making political films. A good anti-gun propagandist must be ruthless, cold and calculating, like those creepy folks at the Violence Policy Center. Moore's only big lie was to imply that the United States and Canada have a similar ethnic makeup.

On the whole, I'd say Michael Moore would do better as a comedy filmmaker or even an actor. He has a good imagination, good comedic timing, and his mean streak could be put to better use writing humorous jabs at unsympathetic characters. He would be perfect as a screenwriter for The Simpsons.

Dr. Michael S. Brown is a member of Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws. Email the author at rkba2000@yahoo.com.

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