Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine

Culture Film

Still relevant, 16 years after the film’s release

In 2002, Michael Moore made the daring decision to produce Bowling For Columbine, a full-length documentary about gun violence in America, starring Columbine high school and their disastrous school shooting of 1999.

The film follows typical Michael Moore antics: Moore runs around to find people with opposing views on the issues at hand and asks them extremely pointed questions. As director, Moore chooses what he includes in his documentaries, and often makes the people he interviews look like fools.

Don’t get me wrong — I am very much on the side of pro-gun reform, but Michael Moore has always had this style in his documentaries, which makes it look like his side is the only believable side.

Throughout the film, Moore examines many potential causes for gun violence in the United States, and disproves them one by one. Is it video game violence? No, because Japan has many popular violent video games. Is it the movies we watch? No, because America’s popular movies are popular in other places, like Canada. Is it poverty? No, because places like Canada and Europe have much higher poverty rates. Is it the history of violence that (ironically) Moore mentioned earlier? No, because if you compare the U.S. to Germany, the two are vastly different.

Today, school shootings are so common they often get buried in the news within days.

One particular segment of the movie that stayed with me is the analysis of guns in Canada. Moore says that within the 10 million families in Canada, there are 7 million guns. In other words, 7 out of 10 Canadian families may be gun owners. He argues that Canada has just as much of a gun-loving culture as in the U.S., yet Canadians have significantly less gun incidents. Moore even demonstrates that just about anyone can buy gun ammunition in Canada.

(Frustratingly, the analysis doesn’t go much further, and the “why?” question is never answered, possibly because Canada isn’t the main focus of the movie.)

But even though Bowling for Columbine revolves around the idea of gun violence, it is never explicitly stated in the movie that gun law reform is what needs to happen. The whole movie is built around the idea that there needs to be change, but that change is never identified. Viewers get to see NRA rallies and protests, they see Charlton Heston standing up for his right to own a gun, and they even hear the parent of a deceased Columbine student lamenting that “something needs to change, but I don’t know what.”

Perhaps Moore was leaving it up to the viewer to decide, but it is precisely because gun legislation was absent from Moore’s comparisons to other countries that it became all I could see. If the difference is not video games, movies, poverty, history or even gun culture, what else could it be?

Sixteen years after Bowling for Columbine was released, gun violence is still an issue plaguing the United States. As I write this, it has been only days since the last school shooting, which occurred in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2018. Seventeen students and teachers died, officially knocking Columbine out of the top 10 worst gun massacres in the United States in modern history.

When the Columbine shooting happened, the children at that school were tracked for years. America watched them grow up and followed them into adulthood. Today, school shootings are so common they often get buried in the news within days. Yet, the students in Parkland are taking a stand, using the internet and the media to bring attention to issues surrounding gun violence.

These students are making changes. They forced a CNN-broadcasted town hall, and have the support of millions across the country. They have caused companies such as Delta Airlines to cut their ties with the NRA, and strive for reform through meetings and walk-outs across the country. At the time of writing, legislation has been discussed in Florida to ban anyone under the age of 21 from buying a gun. By the time you read this, they may have made even more changes.

In my honest opinion, it’s going to take a lot to change the ways of the American people, especially considering 20 children between the ages of six and seven lost their lives in the Sandy Hook Massacre and there was still no gun reform.

Having now seen Bowling for Columbine, I am happy to see the approaches these kids are taking. There was an attempt for change when Columbine happened, but as we can see now, our America today is not much different from the America on that day in 1999.

But that’s not holding these Parkland students back, and they are tirelessly striving for significant change. I truly hope they accomplish it.