You can't help feel the sorrow rushing through the HBO "America Undercover" film "5 American Handguns--5 American Kids." You can't help share the outrage of the parents facing filmmakers Vince DiPersio's and William Guttentag's camera, most of whom have lost a child to a mishandled handgun. You can't help feel indignation when an FBI statistic appears at the end of the film stating that of 24,000 handgun victims annually, less than 650 are considered justifiable homicides.
You also can't help feel the manipulation.
It is very easy to view the broad proliferation of handguns as a menace and also view DiPersio's and Guttentag's film as a piece of propaganda cinema. We are assaulted with tear-stained face after face of grieving parents until the personal tragedies make us go a little numb, as the parents of young gun victim Louis Brown describe themselves when identifying their boy's body.
There are a lot of stories here about parents identifying dead sons, and stories of guns being too readily available. Anti-gun control advocates would say that these are tragic deaths because of gun owner neglect. Except Louis was caught in the cross-fire of a Boston gang shootout. And Idaho policeman Wade Feldner was shot point-blank by a kid who apparently panicked, saying "It was kinda like instinct . . . the gun gave me power."
The film's message, issued with all the finesse of a broadside, is that handguns don't belong in homes where kids live. Period. It doesn't allow for a shade of disagreement, which can tend to raise objections from even the intelligent viewer who wouldn't think of owning a gun. This is cod liver oil TV--very, very good for us, and stuffed down our throats.
* "5 American Handguns -- 5 American Kids" premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on HBO.