Following a Saturday night screening of Bowling for Columbine on MSNBC, filmmaker Michael Moore spoke with The Beat host Ari Melber about what has changed in American culture since the film, which explored the circumstances leading up to the 1999 mass shooting at Colorado's Columbine High School, was released in 2002.
First, Melber asked the documentarian how he feels about the film now, in the current social and political climate. "The saddest thing is that I could have made this film this year and released it this weekend and it would be every bit as relevant as it was 17 years ago," said Moore. "We've lived through dozens of mass shootings."
In August, a mass shooting in an El Paso, Texas, shopping complex left 22 dead and numerous others injured. Hours later, nine people were killed and 26 were injured by a gunman who opened fire in a popular nightlife area in Dayton, Ohio. Later that month, seven people were killed and 22 injured in Odessa, Texas. According to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit corporation that tracks incidents, there have been 339 mass shootings in 2019 to date. As defined by the Justice Department, a mass shooting includes three or more deaths in a single episode.
Considering what has changed in American society, Moore said that — although there is a culture of fear — he feels many people have "decided" to be less afraid, and that manifests itself by way of fewer households having guns. Moore pointed out that 78 percent of Americans do not own guns.
"The 300 million-plus guns that we do have are owned by 3 percent of the population," said the filmmaker, adding that many gun owners have between eight to 22 weapons in their possession. Noting the arsenals that have been built, he asserted that no American citizen should have a need for an arsenal.
Moore went on to speak about the larger issues raised in his film, such as the fundamental questions of "Who are we as people?" and "Why do we do this, why do we shoot each other?" He also wondered, "Why is it one particular gender [responsible for mass killings]?" given that women, who make up half the population, are rarely responsible for deadly crimes.
Moore talked about how he himself is a member of the NRA and understands the concept of defending oneself, target shooting and hunting. He said he even won a marksman award when he was a Boy Scout as a teenager. Moore also tends to agree with the NRA's stance that "guns don't kill people — people kill people," but he believes it's more accurate to say, "Americans kill people."
As a white man over 50 who "feels upset a lot of the time," Moore said that he also understands the hate and anger that people exhibit when they are fearful. He has witnessed men who are hateful toward women, refugees or those of other races, and he would like to tell them, "It's going to be okay." There can be reconciliation and forgiveness, said the director.
Looking ahead to gun reform, Moore said that legislation must be passed and the inherent problems in American culture must be examined. The filmmaker pointed out that there are problems with crime in other countries, such as Canada, "but not on a monthly, weekly or day-to-day basis." He emphasized, "There is something in our American DNA that makes us very afraid," adding that people reach for weapons when they get angry, and that behavior historically dates back a long time.
Asked whether gun control will make progress, Moore replied, "The 78 percent of this country that does not own a gun are going to get the legislation passed," added that but progress will take time, activism and action.
"We can fix this," he said. "We have to take care of each other, even if we disagree with each other."