I saw this documentary on opening night and I was absolutely blown away by it. It is a documentary by Michael Moore focused on the USA and its obsession with guns. It has many focuses but spends much of its time asking tough questions about why there are so many more acts of violence involving firearms in the USA than anywhere else.

One of the most shocking sections of the film is a juxtaposition between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario in Canada, two cities that are directly across a river from one another and have near equal statistics concerning ethnicity, number of guns in homes, and income per capita, but shockingly uneven statistics regarding homicides involving firearms. I don't recall the exact number of homicides in Detroit that involved guns, but it was a lot. Just across the river there was one homicide involving a gun in the past three years.

To further illustrate the difference in cultures that are so close to each other Moore asks people about their thoughts on home security in Windsor and finds out that most people don't even lock their doors. Disbelieving, Moore actually goes door to door for awhile opening people's front doors and just saying hello to them if they are home. No one minded terribly once he explained how shocking that idea was to him.

The movie is both very funny (it has interludes featuring Matt Stone of South Park fame, and Chris Rock touting the need for less worry about gun control and more concern for "bullet control") and very sharply disturbing. It features footage from the Columbine High School library that I've never seen before. Footage with audio provided by students in the library calling local media and 911 as Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris run into the library tossing explosives around and shooting students.

Does anyone remember a few years ago in Los Angeles when a man stopped his truck on the freeway and unravelled a banner condemning the HMO that had let him down, then bent over a shotgun and shot himself in the face on live television? A key moment of that live broadcast finds its way into this film.

Throughout the 2 hour long film Moore travels all over the USA interviewing people who come from very different perspectives on the gun issue. He talks to militiamen who want to make it clear that they do not support terrorism (including James Nichols, brother of Terry Nichols, the man now serving life in prison for his involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing), he talks to students shot by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, parents who lost children in that high school, and executives at K-Mart, the chain store where the bullets used in Columbine High School were purchased.

In an amazing interview he talks to Marilyn Manson, who lives up to his reputation as a well-informed spokesperson for misplaced youth when Moore asks him about what he would say to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold if he could have talked to them before they did what they did.

"I wouldn't say anything. I'd listen to them, because that's what no one ever did for them before."

At this point the audience in the theater applauded and cheered.


What is very important to me, and to this movie as a piece of art that has a message, is that you never doubt Michael Moore's sincerity. He is truly trying to find out why things are the way they are and not just making a lot of noise or trying to make a buck. I heard a few people comment about how Moore is now more of a bully than he was in Roger and Me. I can't really speak on that, but let me just say that as a citizen of the USA I feel more bullied by television media and fear than anything else and I appreciate someone bullying the bullies, if that is in fact what you think he's doing.

The movie closes with an impromptu interview with Charlton Heston, head of the National Rifle Association (who may or may not have granted the interview because Moore told him he was a member of the NRA, which he is). Moore actually only got the interview by buying a "Map of the Stars' Homes" and driving to Heston's front gate.

During the interview Heston's response to the central question of the film (why are there so many more gun deaths in the USA than in other countries?) seems to be about race. He literally says that he thinks the reason is that the USA has a more ethnically diverse population, simultaneously demonstrating his own ignorance of the diversity of other nations around the world, and making some sort of comment about how races can't mix. When confronted about statistics disproving this, he brings up the United States' violent history. Moore, of course, brings up the terribly violent histories of Germany, Britain, China and Japan and points out that more people die every year in the USA from guns than all those other nations combined. Heston had seen better days. Moore then does the only act in the movie I definitely call bullying. He brings out a picture of 6-year-old Kayla Rolland, the first-grader girl who was killed by another first-grader in Detroit in 2000, and asked Heston what he thought of that incident. Heston said goodbye to Moore and walked off.

The movie gives you a lot to think about.

I saw this movie last night with turtlebat and Segnbora-t, on a sneak preview, and we all loved it.

I don't know how Michael Moore gets the interviews he does, but he manages to get access not only to NRA president Charlton Heston's home, but also to the kitchen and bedroom of James Nichols, brother of Terry Nichols, also indicted with Timothy McVeigh. He sandbags them for a while with disingenuously softball questions, then pulls out the big questions. He asks James, who has a loaded handgun under his pillow (Mike checks) and fuel oil and ammonium nitrate on his property, about bigger weapons:

MIKE: Should you have the right to own [weapons-grade plutonium]?

JAMES: That should be restricted.

MIKE: So you do believe in some restrictions.

JAMES: Because there's a lot of wackos out there.

When this guy starts a steely-eyed rant about the need to overthrow tyrannical government, Mike asks, "Why not use Gandhi's way? He didn't have guns, and he beat the British Empire." His subject pauses, then says, "I'm not... [looks puzzled] familiar with that."

The most thrilling scene, for me, was at K-Mart headquarters, where two Columbine High School students calmly show their scars to the PR flacks and Mike asks on their behalf that the store stop selling ammunition. When they return to repeat their request to another flack, she stuns everyone by reading a statement in which the company agrees to stop selling bullets.

As we left the theater, I told the studio rep that Bowling for Columbine is "the most important political film since Triumph of the Will". She dutifully wrote this down, asking whether she had spelled 'will' correctly (she had). And I think it is.

In defense of Michael Moores bullying of Charlton Heston, it should be mentioned that Heston had given his usual From My Cold Dead Hands-speech at a NRA rally in the very town where Kayla Rolland was shot, only two days after her death. Just like he did in the wake of the Columbine shootings.

In the interview, Heston claims that he was not aware that the six year old girl had been killed. When Michael Moore asks whether or not he would still have held the rally if he had been aware of the situation, Heston first tries to brush Moore off. When Moore still pushes for an answer, Heston finally replies "I don't know". Moore then goes on to ask why Heston and the NRA always show up in cities where such gun-related tragedies take place, within a matter of days of the killings. At this point, Heston gets up and leaves.

Moore doesn't bring out the photograph until after Heston has walked out on the interview, catching up with him to show the picture. Before leaving Heston's home, Moore places the picture at the main entrance.

A thing that really struck me about this movie was how old and tired Michael Moore appeared to be. The first time I experienced Moore's work was when a Danish tv channel ran TV Nation around four or five years ago, and in Bowling for Columbine, he seemed to have lost some of his deeply provocative and confrontational attitude that made TV Nation so funny. He seems to have grown more thoughtful, but also less optimistic, bordering on sad. With this movie, Moore sets out to investigate why Americans kill each other so often, but he doesn't find an answer. It's depressing, but it's also the major reason why this film is such a powerful work. I urge everyone to see it if they get the chance, whether they are Americans or not.

From: Galen Elfert
Date: Sun Jan 5, 2003 12:48:09 AM
To: mike@michaelmoore.com
Subject: slightly disgruntled Canadian

Hey Mike,

I just saw your movie. Good work! I laughed, I cried (for real), and overall I thought you had a strong thesis and defended it masterfully.

I've seen a couple of complaints about the movie, though. First, some say it was more than a little self-agrandizing. It was. So what.

Second, however, was the way you depicted Canada. When you first crossed the border I thought it was all pretty amusing. Sure, I don't know anyone who leaves their door unlocked, and lots of people who have alarms, but maybe it's just a little different in Ontario. When you flashed a nice looking apartment building and told us it was the closest thing we have to a slum, however, the whole segment kind of fell apart.

I live in Vancouver. Every day on my way to school, crappy bus scheduling has me wait for 20 minutes at the intersection of Main and Hastings. This is ground zero of just about the worst drug problem in North America. Sure, I've never seen a gun there, and the biggest danger I usually feel is from the dangerously weaving junkies on bicycles, but I regularly witness a shooting up of an equally insidious and deadly kind. Fortunately we have a new mayor now, an ex-coroner bright enough to see that the war-on-drugs approach just ain't fixin' it, but I digress.

My point is: As much as I love Canada and love living here, it's not a utopia! So please stop saying it is. It really gets me when I hear that Canada has been voted the number one place to live, yet again. We have plenty of problems, okay, and one of the biggest is a totally uninspired government, bent on maintaining the status quo.

By the way, a six year old boy was just shot dead by his seven year old sister with a .45-calibre handgun belonging to their 22 year old brother, in Mississauga, Ontario.

Sincerely,

Galen Elfert
Vancouver, Canada.

Please, go forth and tell the truth. There can be no free speech, no freedom of the press, no freedom to protest, no freedom to worship your god, no freedom to speak your mind, no freedom from fear, no freedom for your children and for theirs, for anybody, anywhere, without the Second Amendment freedom to fight for it.

If you don't believe me, just turn on the news tonight. Civilization's veneer is wearing thinner all the time.

~ “The Second Amendment: America's First Freedom” by Charlton Heston 1

Bowling for Columbine is the title of Michael Moore’s 2002 documentary film which examines gun violence in the United States, and asks the question, Why do so many Americans* kill each other with guns?

The title of the movie comes from the fact that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the young men who shot 13 students and one teacher at Columbine High School before killing themselves on April 20, 1999 were supposed to be in an early bowling class the morning of the shooting. At least five witnesses told police that the boys were at the bowling alley that morning.

After the shootings, everyone suddenly had opinions about what caused the boys to act the way they did. The “usual suspects” included bad parenting, violent video games, and evil rock music, in this case embodied by Marilyn Manson. Moore thinks that to blame these scapegoats

. . . make[s] about as much sense as blaming bowling. After all, Eric and Dylan were bowlers, they took bowling class at Columbine—was bowling responsible for their evil deeds? If they bowled that morning, did the bowling trigger their desire to commit mass murder? Or, if they skipped their bowling class that morning, did that bring on the massacre? Had they bowled, that may have altered their mood and prevented them from picking up their guns. As you can see, this is all nonsense, just as it is nonsense to blame Marilyn Manson.2

The documentary is very moving, and at two hours in length, more than a little overwhelming. Moore’s answer to the question he poses, and asks almost everyone in the film that he interviews, seems to be FEAR. Fear perpetuated by our government, and by the media in general—fear of strangers, fear of each other, fear of the unknown, fear of Black men. Moore has amassed an incredible number of facts and figures to support his premise, and weaves them together with stock footage of violence (film of wars, executions, and bombings all over the world; scenes from movies and television) and unexpected musical choices quite skillfully. He points out that while episodes of violence have actually decreased in recent years, the amount of time spent focusing on them on the news media has increased. He also tells us (much to my surprise) that there never was a razor found in anyone’s Halloween apple—the panic was started by a story describing a hypothetical situation that ran in the New York Times in October of 1970. 3 We are so easily influenced--and frightened--by the information we receive, and so rarely have the means to check its validity.

This is a movie worth seeing.

MPAA: Rated R for some violent images and language. Runtime: 120 min / USA:119 min Country: Canada / USA / Germany Language: English Color: Color Sound Mix: Dolby4

* (…and by “Americans”, I mean citizens of the United States.)

________________

1At the National Press Club, September 11, 1997: quoted on http://www.joepierre.com/heston.htm 1/26/03 2 http://www.bowlingforcolumbine.com/about/faq.php 3 quoted in The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things, by Barry Glassner, http://www.bowlingforcolumbine.com/library/fear/06.php 4http://www.imdb.com/Title?0310793

I enjoyed Bowling for Columbine. Coming out of the theater, I thought the message was a little muddled, and I'd choked on a few statistics he'd given that I could clearly tell were misleading. I liked Michael Moore's work on TV nation. I've slowly grown to despise the film.

First off, I don't have a problem with Mike's message, muddled though it might be. I'm not sure what causes gun violence either, and while I believe in our right to keep guns, I also believe they should be heavily regulated. I agree that the media induces fear in people, makes them think they are living in a more violent and divisive society than they are, and thus makes them more prone to resort to using guns.

I'm not against his message, but his method. He's claiming this movie as a documentary, and that to me implies some amount of objectivity, at least a commitment to not be misleading.

Why is a movie making the claim that 'the number of guns in America isn't the problem' attacking the NRA?

He gives us a bunch of number on gun deaths in various countries, but doesn't bother to give them per capita. So were left thinking the US is 11,127/165 = 67 times as gun violent as Canada. When, adjusted for population (~30 million vs ~280 million) that figure is closer to 7.5 times as violent. Sure, even then this would support his point that we're more violent, but he's being misleading and inflating his numbers. His failure to compare apples to apples weakens his argument in my opinion.

Why is a movie claiming that 'scare mongering in the media about gun violence is what's causing the violence' giving misleading statistics on gun violence?

He's even worse with the one statistic that stuck in my mind: Canada has 7 million guns in 10 million households. His argument is that, therefore, it can't be all the guns in America that make us more violent. First off, now he's willing to start giving numbers "per capita," making the statistic even worse by bloating it to households. More importantly, he gives us absolutely no US numbers to compare to. That is because those numbers go against his point. Americans have 3 times as many guns per capita as Canadians, and 7 times as many handguns, again per capita.

Hmm, taking into account population and actual handgun ownership, Canada has almost the same rate of gun homicide per handgun. (~7.5 times as many deaths, 7 times as many handguns, both per capita) His failure to give statistics to compare to, particularly when they have a major influence in his claim (that the increased gun violence in the US is not caused by more guns,) leaves a major hole in his argument.

I wish I could find the numbers he gave, but he dismisses the idea that it might be racial division in the US by saying that Canada has minorities too. He gives a figure (I think it was 15%) without giving the US number to compare to (around 35% counting Latinos). I am not claiming that racial tension, or minorities contribute to gun violence, only that Mike's argument fails when the statistics he quotes don't back him up.

Why is it that Mike gets to rail against pundits using biased statistics and giving limited information, but it's okay for Mike to use them to prove -his- point?

Mike claims that it can't be poverty in Canada either. He backs this up by claiming that the unemployment rate in Canada is almsot double that of the US. He fails to mention that the poverty rate in Canada is almost half that of the US.

Looking around on the web, there are also a few things that he says that just aren't true. The commercial he shows about Willie Horton does not exist. The closing screen "Willie Horton released. Then kills again" appears to have been added by Moore. It's not from the original commercial, and it's is factually incorrect (Horton raped, not killed, a woman.) He also makes the claim that $243 million was given to the Taliban for stopping the production of opium. All of this money was given to United Nations humanitarian organizations operating in Afghanistan, not to the Taliban. He claims that the plant near Columbine is creating weapons of mass destruction when it actually creates rockets to launch satellites.

Its make me stop listening to any of Mike's arguments when I see tactics designed to mislead built into his arguments. I'm not going to listen to him tell me that the media is biased when he's presenting me with biased facts. His claims that corporations are hiding information falls short when I see him doing the same. His claims to the objectivity of a documentarian are destroyed by the clear bias of his reporting. I'd prefer to just look at the movie as entertainment and comedy, but I cannot when it clearly intends to be so much more, and relies on the laxness of his audience to maintain that illusion. All in all, I'm left feeling betrayed by Mike. He's not so much a documentarian anymore as a propagandist.

I did lots of poking around and googling to find out what I could.
Most of the data comes from www.census.gov and www.statcan.ca
The factual inaccuracies are mentioned in an article on spinsanity:
http://www.spinsanity.org/columns/20021119.html

Doh! Starke's excellent writeup went in while I was writing my own. Ah well.

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