Michael Moore’s controversial documentary film Bowling for Columbine shows up a mirror to American society and asks serious questions of it. Just a cursory glance at comparative statistics between the USA and European countries shows the wide gulf in gun-related crime rates, with the former way off scale when compared to the latter. Yet, despite overwhelming evidence in support of curbing easy access to arms, powerful corporate forces have constantly prevented any attempts to restrict access. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is the umbrella organization for arms manufacturers in the country and they wield significant political clout. The rest of the essay will get to the root of the gun problem in the United States and suggest some remedial measures.
It is fair to say that gun control laws in the United States have either been limited or difficult to enforce. This assertion is borne by official crime statistics in year after year. As mentioned, when compared to other advanced societies, the number of homicides per capita in the United States is way off scale to other countries. This situation is totally unacceptable, as victims are mostly innocent. The repeated indiscriminate shoot-outs in school and college campuses is an indictment of a deep rooted social malaise. And free access to guns has made such tragedies to occur again and again. To illustrate, the United Kingdom reports the average annual homicide count at 68 for the entire population. In sharp contrast, the figure rises to a whopping 11,127 people – most of them innocent law-abiding citizens and a significant portion of them women and children.
Powerful and politically connected associations like the NRA blame the homicide statistic on violence-promoting music videos, video games and Hollywood movies. They refuse to take any responsibility for the abuse of guns in the country. The NRA has repeatedly invoked provisions under the Second Amendment to the US constitution, which says that just as the nation should nurture its militia for protection from external threat, citizens are also entitled to bear arms to safeguard themselves against criminal threat. But as statistics emphatically clarifies, overall, guns actually raise the risk of injury than confer protection. Each year, of the 30,000 gun deaths, only about 200 could legally be justified as self-defense. What is also found is that those possessing a gun (as in gesturing to shoot) are more likely to be shot at than those with no arms. The gun lobbyists who shield themselves under the Second Amendment have more questions to answer. For instance, a vast proportion of suicides in the country is accomplished through the means of a gun. Other methods of attempted suicide have lesser fatality rates. Hence, it is fairly clear that the arguments forwarded by the gun-lobby are largely without substance. Their real motive is making profits and keeping the arms industry alive. Critics like Michael Moore have questioned on similar lines.
Moore’s point of view is aligned with the Brady Campaign which lobbies for stricter gun control laws. James S. Brady was the former press secretary to President Reagan, who was grievously wounded as a collateral damage when during the assassination attempt at President Reagan. Ever since this near fatal incident, Brady has campaigned nationwide for legislations that would bring down free access to arms. To a limited extent, Brady was successful when President Bill Clinton passed the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act (commonly called the Brady Bill). One of the main changes brought about by the act is in thorough background checking of the customer before a gun is being sold. It was estimated that about 2 million applications have since been filtered by the set criteria. But despite this legislative success, enforcement has continued to be a problem.
Coming back to Michael Moore’s documentary, the film implicitly suggests some remedial measures to address this most pressing problem in American society. In the film, the last section shows a rare interview with the elusive NRA president. It exposes the ignorance and narrow motives of bodies such as NRA and the various corporations that constitute it. It is high time that the public wakes up to the pathetic condition our society has fallen into. We need to put pressure on the government to make radical changes to laws governing gun ownership. Even if a few innocent victims were unable to protect themselves due to lack of arms at their immediate disposal, there will be numerous more who will be saved for lack of guns at the hands of potential perpetrators of crime. Even banning any private ownership of guns can be mulled over. It is only through taking such drastic measures that our society can project itself as sane. It is only through these sweeping measures that the dismal homicide rate can be brought down to per-capita levels of European countries. The government can also think of curbing lobbying activities and activists. Looked objectively, lobbying interferes with representational democracy and promotes privates business interests. Hence by restricting lobbying, the power of organizations like the NRA will also be brought under control.