In an interview last April, political activist and movie maker said of Bowling for Columbine, “We could release this film again this Friday and it sadly would probably be every bit as relevant.” Sadly, that same statement can be said today. The movie, about what led up to the Columbine school shooting and the constant problem of gun violence in the United States, echoes the same problems and issues that are debated in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
The reason the movie is more relevant is because the problem never seems to go away, and the powers-that-be are unable to find a solution that prevents the shootings from occurring to begin with. Of the 16 school shootings since Columbine, 13 of them involved a male who was under the age of 30. The majority of shooters were either students or former students of the targeted schools.
The movie cites a number of statistics that were intended to bring to light the growing gun problem in America, and the dangers the presence of those guns present to students young and old. The movie cites the following statistics comparing the number of gun deaths in other countries to that of the United States.
- Japan: 39
- Australia: 65
- United Kingdom: 68
- Canada: 165
- France: 255
- Germany: 381
- United States: 11,127
Those differences have largely remained the same since 1999. Which leads to the question of why a culture that is considered Christian in the eyes of most other nations is as murderous as it is. If the answer is the proliferation of guns, as the movie suggests, then the obvious question is whether reducing the number of guns would reduce the number of deaths by guns or the number of school shootings. It is important to keep in mind that the issue is not gun availability, but guns as the preferred choice of school shooters.
But the real value of the movie is that it shows nothing has been done politically or legally to quell what on average is the once a year rampage by a lone gunman who targets a school. Columbine was unique in one way: it involved two students instead of the statistically relevant single attacker. But the patterns are largely the same, including the fact that the shooters had mental health issues or were generally loners who had difficulty socially adjusting.
Since Columbine, the high school and college experiences have changed dramatically. In 1999 there was no social media to speak of, there were no tablet computers or smartphones, and the Internet was in its infancy. The presence of all these technologies today amp up the problems of social interaction – or the lack thereof. Cyberbullying was not a phrase in ’99, nor was believing that if you made a Facebook post saying your goal in life was to be a professional school shooter someone would listen to what you had to say. When your girlfriend broke up with you she did it by phone or in person – not by text or announcing it on social media.
Bowling for Columbine is more relevant than ever now because the potential shooters can be in our midst and we will never notice them because of technology. Their warnings can be posted anonymously, and even if discovered, tracing them back to an actual person is not always possible. The same technology can be used to find the weapons of mass killing they need to acquire, along with protective gear and other preemptive strike equipment. Technology itself is not the problem, but our lack of how to control it, especially in the hands of younger people, is evident.
Looking back at the past should be done for the purpose of learning what we can from it and fixing the problems. Bowling for Columbine was the warning flag that said we should begin to work on the problems before they get out of control. 18 years later, the problem still is not under control. Giving the movie a second look today may wake us up to everything that has not been done since then, and lead us back to the starting point.