Documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple

Filmmaker Barbara Kopple is one of the reasons I got into documentary film making. Harlan County USA, her compelling account of attempts by coal miners in Harlan, Kentucky, to unionize is considered a textbook work on making a good documentary film.

So I tuned in her latest effort — Gun Fight — on HBO Wednesday night with high expectations. It opened with gut-wrenching scenes from the shootings at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, along with interviews with Colin Goddard, one of the survivors of the massacre that left 32 dead and 18 injured. Goddard now lobbys for the gun control advocate Sarah Brady.

The first part of the film tries to give equal time to both sides of the gun argument but then Kopple, sadly, ventures off into partisan posturing by portraying gun owners primarily as militia members, survivalists and gang bangers along with zealots who claim Jesus supported the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms.

She gives screen time to Richard Feldman, a former spokesman for the National Rife Association and now head of the Independent Firearm Owners Association (IFOA). I know Richard and worked with him when he headed up the American Shooting Sports Council, a group fronted primarily by Glock. In the film, he comes across as just another zealot obsessed with guns.

It was inevitable that gun control advocates would use the Virginia Tech tragedy to push their agenda. It’s sad that Kopple uses her talent as a filmmaker to further that agenda.

Gun Fight would have been much more powerful is she had taken a dispassionate look at both sides of the issue and left out the nutcases. As a gun owner, I resent such stereotyping.

Unfortunately, this kind of posturing only deepens the divide in a already too-partisan debate.

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