While driving home after viewing Bowling for Columbine, I tuned into a radio discussion about the Washington, D.C., sniper. The exchange centered on whether the sniper was a "serial" or "spree" killer." Only in America, I thought, does the public knowledgeably categorize mass-murderers.

Bowling for Columbine is ostensibly about the huge amount of guns, gun owners and gun violence in the U.S., but it doesn't take long to realize that Michael Moore (whose 1989 film Roger and Me remains the highest-grossing documentary of all time) has set his sights higher. The film is less about guns than about the culture of paranoia and fear that makes Americans believe they need bigger and more powerful guns for greater and greater protection.

Moore's contention is backed up by figures. Japan watches just as much violence on TV as we do. England and Germany both have a bloody history of violent conquest. And even peace-loving (but hunting-crazy) Canada has more guns per capita than we do. So why is the annual murder rate in the U.S. larger than in all those countries combined? That is the question that hovers over the film.