Fifteen years ago this week, “Bowling for Columbine” opened in theaters. At the time, there’d never really been an event like Columbine before. Those of us who worked on the film thought we should do it because of the availability of guns, and the phenomenon of guns ending up in the hands of the wrong people, guns in the hands of people who are afraid and take their fear to an exaggerated place. We were afraid it would become the new normal, and wanted to warn people that perhaps our country had taken a turn.
If you look back at the discussion and the controversy and the outrage that the film engendered among people who didn’t want that voice to be heard… Well, what good does it do now, to talk about a film from 15 years ago that obviously failed to convince enough people that we have a huge problem here on our hands? Nothing was done about it. And the shootings got more and more common.
This sad and tragic event in Las Vegas takes place in the context of a country that has allowed 300 million guns to be in people’s homes, that has allowed a very small but angry minority to own multitudes of guns, and whose president is slow to criticize supporters of his who are violent in Charlottesville, Va., and who defends police who shoot unarmed black citizens. This is a country that is so full of violence, and violence doesn’t always come out of the barrel of a gun.
I bring this up to provide context for us, as citizens, having to suffer through another horror as we are now with Las Vegas. This sadly won’t be the last tragedy. Only when people decide that they’ve had enough will this stop. I wonder what will it take for people to rise up. I thought 20 first graders in Newtown, Conn., would do it.
We’re stuck, and one of the main reasons is that the NRA is one of the top three most powerful lobbyists in Washington, D.C. You have to ask the question: Why do we allow money and the influence of money in our political system? This sort of behavior is banned in other democracies. You have to ask yourself: What version of democracy is this? And is it one?
But the reason we’ve had so much trouble effecting change on gun control isn’t just the NRA. It’s also liberals and Democrats not wanting to fight that hard for this, because the NRA will fund and run candidates who will defeat them. The Democrats need to stop being afraid of that and start thinking: “Seventy-seven percent of this country doesn’t even own a gun, and 90% of Americans want more gun control laws, not less,” and get those people out to vote. But the Democrats have a hard time inspiring people to vote.
After the tragedy in Newtown, the headline did not read, “Son of General Electric Executive Kills 25 at Sandy Hook Elementary.” If he was the son of an ayatollah or a Muslim cleric, that probably would have been somewhere near the lead of the story. I know we will not frame the story today as “Retired Accountant Kills Dozens of People.” No one will be going to bed tonight afraid of accountants, not as we would if the story were about Muslims or so-called terrorists, in stories that just propagate people’s fears.
The way that these stories get framed doesn’t help us to fix the problem. Nobody will refer to this as white-on-white crime, for instance. The way we choose our words and the way we choose to ignore the context in which these stories occur is keeping us from solving and preventing these national tragedies.
As told to Gordon Cox. Michael Moore is performing on Broadway in “The Terms of My Surrender.”