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Bowling for Columbine: A Documentary on the Making of Two Killers

By Elaine Cassel

Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine explores the origins of violence in Columbine High School killers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. Moore, the quirky filmmaker whose movies are referred to as pseudo-documentaries (because they blend reportorial and staged sequences), explores the origins of the special kind of home-grown violence that, in 2000, led Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris to arm themselves with firearms and kill thirteen people in Columbine High School in a Denver, Colorado suburb before they killed themselves.

Bowling for Columbine’s main purpose is to explore the gun culture in the United States. America’s love affair with the gun has been much documented by sociologists. Psychologists write about the role of guns in triggering violence, when combined with risk factors such as youth, anger, and alcohol. Moore reports on the role of the National Rifle Association, one of the most vociferous and wealthy lobbying organizations in the United States, who lobby against virtually any control on gun access and use. Moore interviews NRA spokesman and macho American hero, Charlton Heston, who says that the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution (which refers to the rights of citizens to bear arms), is more important than the first amendment (which embodies the rights of freedom of speech, religion, and association).

More than half of all homes in the United States have at least one firearm, but, Moore discovers, Canadians actually have more guns per capita than do Americans. So why are there so many more deaths in the U.S.? Moore suggests, by interviewing Americans, that we are a fearful country, obsessed with gated communities and locked doors. Statistics, however, indicate that having guns in the home creates a higher risk that the inhabitants will be injured or killed by the very gun they bought for protection, at the hands of an intruder, acquaintance, or family member (either accidentally or on purpose).

Long ago, Albert Bandura’s famous "Bobo" doll experiment found that children learned aggression from watching models behave aggressively. Moore reports on the murder of a first-grade student in a Michigan classroom by a boy who brought a gun from home, pointing it at the child and pulling the trigger as he had no doubt seen done at home by his father, who was a known drug dealer.

America has the laxest gun laws of any Western country. Laws in most states protect the rights of citizens to defend themselves and their property with violence. In America, law enforcement officers are taught to shoot to kill, not to maim. We are a country built on gunpowder—massacres of Native Americans and their livestock were possible through gun power.

The NRA says that "guns don’t kill people, people do." But people learn to kill with guns through the processes of operant and social conditioning. Bowling for Columbine depicts what sociologists, social psychologists, and criminologists have known for years. Gun violence in the United States is an epidemic, with no end in sight. Guns are a way of life—and death—in the USA.

Elaine Cassel, Marymount University and Lord Fairfax Community College