Gun Fight

Gun Fight


Reviewed by: Val Kermode

In this film, which premiered at Sheffield Doc/Fest, two time Oscar winner Barbara Kopple turns her attention to the issue of gun ownership and gun control in America.

Opening with mobile phone footage of the Virginia Tech massacre of 2007, in which 33 people died, the film follows a survivor, Colin Goddard, in his quest for greater gun safety. Before Colin was shot five times in this incident, his family didn't give much thought to the arguments about gun control. Now they feel that this is something that could happen to anyone, anywhere in America, and they would like to see stronger restrictions on gun ownership and better enforcement of existing laws.

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But there's another side to the argument, and Kopple makes room here for opponents to state their case, although it's clear throughout which side she's on.

Another survivor of Virginia Tech, Brandford G. Wilde, feels very differently from Colin. He believes that if students had been carrying guns that day the killer could have been stopped. He calmly and reasonably supports his right to carry a gun for protection. “The second to last thing I want to do is shoot somebody. The last thing I want is to be dead because someone shot me.” That probably sums up the attitude of many gun owners in America.

The major flaw in this argument is shown up in a filmed experiment in which a group of students are given guns to wear on their person, then an attack is staged with a gunman bursting into their lecture room. Not one of the students managed to prevent the attack, and it is shown that many would have been killed in cross fire. Whether this experiment was repeated with any different results is not clear. But it seems unlikely that students in a genuine classroom situation, not expecting any attack, would fare better.

Throughout the film, the claim is made by gun supporters that there are bad guys out there and we good guys have the right to protect ourselves. We don't know how often good guys have succeeded in protecting themselves with guns. Has anyone ever really tried to quantify this? What we do know is that many tragic accidents occur when people go down this route. Some are recorded in 911 calls, such as the one we hear in this film from a very distressed man who has just shot an intruder, who turns out to be his wife.

Then there's the man who was trying to drill a hole in the wall of his house. When this proved difficult he decided to make the hole with his gun. But the bullet went through the wall and hit an innocent neighbour out in the street.

However the myth persists that an honest man needs a gun. Clips from several old westerns show how deeply embedded this is. There's also the Bonnie and Clyde syndrome: a woman loves a man with a gun. It's not all about protection.

Then we come to the Second Amendment: the right of every citizen to bear arms.

When you begin to look at gun ownership in America, it's like peeling an onion. An estimated 80 million Americans own guns. No doubt many of those never even take them out of the closet from one year to the next. About four million of those belong to the N.R.A. They are more passionate about hanging on to their rights. Then there's the hard core of the N.R.A. who try to scare their members into fund raising and lobbying by making T.V. commercials that tell them all their rights are going to be taken away. They put huge pressure on Congress (often successfully) to repeal even the mildest of gun control laws.

Even more extreme are the insurrectionists, who believe the Second Amendment gives individuals the right to protect themselves by overthrowing Federal government if it doesn't seem to be acting in their interests.

Kopple uses clips of some extremist militia groups in training and newsreel footage from 1995, when Timothy McVeigh bombed a Federal government building in Oklahoma City. She can't resist including that familiar scene of Charlton Heston, “From my cold dead hands”. But on the whole this is a much more sober film than, say, Bowling For Columbine.

The most powerful arguments for gun control come from Philadelphia, a city which is being destroyed by the abundance of guns in circulation, where young people are afraid to go to school because of the number of shootings, and where a doctor working in E.R reminds us that the number of dead at Columbine, 13, equates to a normal weekend in Philadelphia, which doesn't make any headlines.

Brave Doctor Wintermute, like Colin Goddard, has decided that the only way to do anything about this shocking situation is to go down the political route and fight for more gun control legislation, a choice that has made him Public Enemy Number Two for the N.R.A. All they are seeking at present is to block one small loophole in the sale of guns, hardly the assault on freedom which the gun lobby claim. It's a long, long road, and the beleaguered white Palin teeshirt wearers are going to be fighting back all the way.

Reviewed on: 13 Jun 2011
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An exploration of the politics of gun control in the US.
Amazon link

Director: Barbara Kopple

Year: 2011

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US


Doc/Fest 2011

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