Watching for Columbine 

On Sunday afternoon, scheduled with complete disregard for the drama (aborted, it turns out) of Peyton Manning’s potential advancement to a Super Bowl game, the Roxy Theater screened Michael Moore’s 2002 Academy Award-winning Bowling for Columbine. About 100 Missoulians showed up to watch the two-hour film, and about three-quarters of those stayed another hour afterwards to talk about how it made them feel.

The film uses the Columbine High School murders as the launching point of Moore’s quest for an answer to the question: What makes Americans so enthusiastic about guns, and so disproportionately prone to gun violence.

Moore’s documentary-style style is idiosyncratic, unabashedly political and diverse in its embrace, and its audience this day was a reasonable approximation of that recipe. They followed the film’s trajectory with guffawing laughter at the funny parts and stunned silence at the enormity of Moore’s vision of America’s gun violence problem. (Over 11,000 annual U.S. gun deaths, no matter your politics, is a problem.) Moore’s ultimate stab at an answer seems to be that a culture of fear is sold to the American public, via media for instance, for purposes perhaps of control, and that gun violence is a natural consequence of that indoctrination.

After the film, under the light facilitating hands of Terry Kendrick and Ginny Tribe, Missoulians addressed themselves to two questions: What individual actions might be taken toward the goal of community civility, and what words might be spoken to decision-makers regarding violence in Missoula.

Two more questions were not asked: What, quantitatively speaking, is Missoula’s violence problem? (1 homicide, 42 rapes, 52 robberies and 189 felony assaults in 2002, according to the Missoula Police Department), and why has no local, state or national leader emerged to address the issue? (Can you say NRA?)

Missoulians stood and spoke of the need for tolerance, the corrosive nature of a life so dominated by consumer culture, and the benefits of really listening, even to white, suited, executive parents and, presumably, their disaffected, gun-toting, surburban teenagers.

After about an hour of talk, not surprisingly, no clear sense of consensus—aside from a pervasive sense of personal responsibility—had emerged.

But a solution was never the goal in the first place. As organizer Molly Galusha announced not long before the room mulled out: “I just wanted to be reassured that I live in a good community. And I got that.”

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