Going into this project, I must admit that I am no fan of Michael Moore. Having read some of his writing and seen him in numerous television interviews, he comes across as being more of a radical, left-wing propagandist than as a serious filmmaker. I am not the only one who feels this way. In fact, many consider his endorsement of Presidential candidate Wesley Clark to be the event that destroyed Clark’s campaign.
That being said, Bowling For Columbine is the first one of Moore’s films I have actually seen. I will give Moore credit for having a very creative mind and a (seemingly) sincere desire to address injustice in the world. He does make some legitimate points about the callous and cavalier attitude many people have toward social problems such as violence and racism. However, my initial perception of Moore remains unchanged. At its core, Bowling For Columbine is a one-sided, fallacious and misleading diatribe which relies on stereotypes and sensationalism in order to make its point.
The debate over gun control and the proper interpretation of the Second Amendment is a legitimate one. When one considers the horrible tragedies in Flynt, Littleton and many other places, attacking the firearm industry might initially seem like a proper course of action. However, this argument can be approached from more than one direction. What about the many incidents in which used of a firearm directly saved a person’s life?
I am reminded of a story I once heard about a man in Florida who was picking up his teenage son from his job at a video store. Suddenly, he saw two men carrying shotguns into the store in order to rob it. Fortunately, the man held a Conceal and Carry permit and had a shotgun of his own, which he used to subdue the robbers and potentially prevent the deaths of numerous innocent people. Yet reports such as these are curiously missing from Moore’s "documentary."
Anyone with the most basic knowledge of rhetorical science would be able to point out this film’s numerous fallacies. This includes hasty generalization (his subtle comparison of gun activists to the Oklahoma City bombers), prejudicial language ("Making fudge for rich people...") and red herring (downplaying the dangers of crime by appealing to environmental issues). Moore also employs very selective information when making his arguments. For example, he correctly points out that the United States did finance Saddam Hussein during the Iran/Iraq War. However, he conveniently ignores the reasons for this: The fact that, at the time, Iran was much more of a threat to the U.S. that was Iraq. The adage that "In times of war, my enemy’s enemy is my friend" comes to mind.
Not surprisingly, the film follows the usual strategy of demonizing the National Rifle Association. Admittedly, I do believe the NRA should a lack of tact by holding their convention too close to the time and place of the Columbine tragedy. However, this does not do away with the many admirable facets of their work. In fact, one could easily argue that the NRA does more than any other single organization to prevent gun-related tragedies. A simple look at the NRA’s web site (www.nra.org) will show many of the organization’s activities which are aimed at promoting safe and responsible use of firearms. For example, their "Eddie Eagle" program is dedicated toward educating children and youth about gun safety. Hundreds of thousands of people have benefited from their training sessions, and they have been strong and consistent supporters of law enforcement.
Perhaps the most ridiculous portion of the film is its attempt to paint the popular TV show Cops as being racist in nature. Moore’s premise is that the program depicts African-Americans being arrested by the police, therefore the show is negatively stereotyping blacks. However, as a long-time viewer of the show, I have never gotten this impression. In fact, I just watched two episodes earlier this evening. Out of the numerous police responses depicted, not a single one involved an African-American.
What Moore fails to mention is the simple fact that crimes are committed by people in all ethnic and demographic groups, and Cops is representative of this. In fact, some of the show’s most "lively" encounters are "domestic disturbance" calls featuring white families who live in mobile homes. As I Caucasian who at one time lived in a mobile home, I could just as easily argue that this depiction is negatively stereotyping me! However, I don’t think this is the case at all, and I don’t believe any other reasonable person would, either.
Admittedly, I was not quite sure what to make of the film’s climactic interview with Charleton Heston. To his credit, Moore did do a good job of "grilling" Mr. Heston on the seeming inconsistencies of certain parts of his philosophy. However, when one considers that Moore deliberately mislead Heston to get the interview so that he could bombard him with baited questions, I’m not sure I can blame Heston for not wanting to participate. Other questions remain as well: Was the interview shown uncut, in its entirety? Were all of Heston’s statements kept in context? We have no way of knowing for certain.
In conclusion, gun violence is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions, especially when it involves children. Consequentially, it is immoral to exploit such tragedy for political purposes, whether it be an ill-timed NRA rally or a liberal propaganda film. As with all issues, valid arguments can be made on both sides. However, the Founding Fathers saw individual gun rights as necessary to a stable society, which the Supreme Court has consistently upheld in cases such as US v. Miller and US v. Emerson. The fear the Moore bemoans throughout his film would be increased immensely if law-abiding people were denied the tools to defend themselves. Although it sounds cliché’ in today’s vernacular, the old slogan still holds true: "Guns don’t kill people, people kill people."