"...death by guns - Japan 39, America 11127."

BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE

An Illusion review by Joan Ellis                 


                We knew before seeing “Bowling for Columbine” that America is the most violent country in the world.  Michael Moore’s provocative new documentary explores the reasons for that sad truth.  Going in, I expected a polemic; coming out I admired him for his admission that he doesn’t understand the why of it any more than the rest of us do. 

                Think of the annual statistics on death by guns:   Germany, 381; France, 255; Canada, 165, England, 68; Australia, 65; Japan, 39;  America 11,127.  Japan writes and sells the most violent video games available.  Germany is the home of the violent Gothic music tradition.  England has a higher divorce rate than the U.S.  Ten million Canadians own seven million guns, but only Americans, it seems, shoot each other.  Why? 

                Charlton Heston thinks it’s our heritage.  The aggression of manifest destiny?  Japan occupied China with abject brutality.  England held India in the empire at gunpoint.  The Nazis designed and implemented the Holocaust.  On the day of the Columbine shootings, President Clinton ordered the largest scale bomb drop on Kosovo that the U.S. has undertaken in any war. 

                Mr. Moore wades through this quagmire with high impact visual examples.  He takes two Columbine victims, who still have bullets in their bodies, to Kmart to ask why customers can still buy live ammunition off the shelves in their store.

                In the movie’s most riveting passages, Moore introduces us to the people who simply see no connection between guns and death, many of them in Michigan where he grew up.  He opens an account at The North Country Bank, a bank then running a promotion that gave each new customer a gun.  “Don’t you think it’s a little dangerous handing out guns in a bank?” Moore asks – a question that sails right past the clerk’s understanding. 

                The filmmaker edges closer to an explanation when he describes the steady, violent diet of the nightly news.  Every night, he says, we are made to think our neighborhoods are more violent than they are.  A siege mentality develops.  We buy guns. 

                When Moore wangles his way into the house of Charlton Heston, the movie star/activist’s easy grace turns to raw nerves under Moore’s pointed questioning.  Heston is the deer in the headlights, trying to field questions framed by the issues of 2002 with a mind set from somewhere in the ‘50s.  Still, this is the man who brought an NRA meeting to its feet by waving his gun above his head saying something remotely like “they’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.”

                Bowling, you see, was an elective sport at Columbine, and the Columbine murderers went to their chosen class at 6 a.m. on April 20, 1999.  Then they shot twelve students and one teacher with guns bought legally and loaded with ammunition from Kmart’s open shelves.  Guns and bullets are legal; it’s just that -there is no legal prey.  Apparently Americans can’t stand that.


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