So I went home to the burbs for the weekend and right as I walked through the door after seeing Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Bowling for Columbine, the first thing my mother said to me was, “Did you hear there was another sniper shooting in Virginia?”
Luckily, we live in New York, over 300 miles away from all the sniper attacks. However, my parents are not immune to the “culture of fear” Michael Moore ascribes to the apparently American tradition of nonstop media coverage of the mostly violent crimes – particularly gun deaths. He points out that while the murder rate has decreased 20% over the past couple of years, news coverage of violent crimes has risen 600%. My mother watches the local news religiously. My father reads the newspapers daily.
“Be careful when you leave your apartment,” my father cautions me, “the sniper might decide to come up to the city.”
“Don’t worry, Dad,” I tell him, “if he comes up to Washington Heights, he will be outgunned.”
It’s true. I’ve lived here for three years now. Whenever I turn on the local news, the shootings invariably take place within 5 blocks of my apartment. I’ve witnessed a murder suicide from my window (I heard the shots, saw the bodies. My neighbors found their car bullet ridden the next morning and within the month, moved out to a safer – or is it – Hoboken).
Clearly, here in the Heights, the sniper would not have a chance. In fact, I dare the sniper to come up to Washington Heights. Quit pussy footing it around DC and come up here and play, asshole.
Nevertheless, I’m sure if we had a sniper up here we’d all be cowering and looking over our shoulders even more than we’re used to. It seems walking around DC and areas like my neighborhood these days is like playing the death lottery: unlikely to pick the winning numbers, yes, but still a possibility. So it’s shocking yet easy for me to believe when Michael Moore states that while Australia and England each had about 65 shooting deaths in a one-year period and Canada around 300, the United States had over 11,000 in one year alone.
Bowling for Columbine is Moore’s quest for an explanation behind these disturbing figures. He scours the nation to bring us a humorous and grimly horrific look at America’s culture of firearms abuse from a bank that gives away guns when you open an account with them to the terrible massacre at Columbine to even Michigan, his home state.
Here, a startling set of coincidences arises. Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols and his brother (who we learn sleeps with a loaded gun under his pillow) have connections to the Michigan militia. NRA President Charlton “From My Cold Dead Hands” Heston grew up in Michigan as did Columbine killer Harris. Michigan has the record for the youngest fatal shooting when a six year old shot and killed a classmate. Heston insensitively attended and spoke at an NRA meeting one week after this shooting, in Michigan.
And Michigan is only a microcosm.
However, across the border, in Canada, where gun laws are similar to ours and guns are just as easily accessible, why is it that the number of gun deaths is only a tenth that of the United States’? Germany and Great Britain have just a violent history as ours and yet only a fraction of the gun violence. What makes us different? Why is a sniper targeting seemingly random people in DC? Why am I scared to walk around my neighborhood at night?
Bowling for Columbine’s worth lies in the questions Moore poses as the film leaves us with no clear answers, just a general feeling of anger and helplessness, an overwhelming sense that something is wrong in America, as well as an uneasy longing to move to Canada.
So I’m thinking that moving north of the border to Canada is not such a bad idea. I’ve got my winter coats (all fifteen or so), my love of Canadian comedians and Canadian bacon (both the movie and the food, although I’ve been told repeatedly that they don’t have Canadian bacon up there. Wtf). I can get excited for Kraft dinners, timbits, and alcool, and I’m all for Boxing Day. I still don’t understand Canadian Thanksgiving (what is that all aboot?) but I’ll celebrate it. So fuck this shit, when our government decides to attack Saddam, I’ll be cheering on the Maple Leafs and skating home to think polite thoughts about the Queen Mum. Canada is utopia.