Michael Moore: It’s the Guns – But Not Really the Guns

by on July 25, 2012 · 19 comments

in American Empire, Culture, History, Popular

By Michael Moore / July 25, 2012

Since Cain went nuts and whacked Abel, there have always been those humans who, for one reason or another, go temporarily or permanently insane and commit unspeakable acts of violence. There was the Roman Emperor Tiberius, who during the first century A.D. enjoyed throwing victims off a cliff on the Mediterranean island of Capri. Gilles de Rais, a French knight and ally of Joan of Arc during the middle ages, went cuckoo-for-Cocoa Puffs one day and ended up murdering hundreds of children. Just a few decades later Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula, was killing people in Transylvania in numberless horrifying ways.

In modern times, nearly every nation has had a psychopath or two commit a mass murder, regardless of how strict their gun laws are – the crazed white supremacist in Norway one year ago Sunday, the schoolyard butcher in Dunblane, Scotland, the École Polytechnique killer in Montreal, the mass murderer in Erfurt, Germany … the list seems endless.

And now the Aurora shooter last Friday. There have always been insane people, and there always will be.

But here’s the difference between the rest of the world and us: We have TWO Auroras that take place every single day of every single year! At least 24 Americans every day (8-9,000 a year) are killed by people with guns – and that doesn’t count the ones accidentally killed by guns or who commit suicide with a gun. Count them and you can triple that number to over 25,000.

That means the United States is responsible for over 80% of all the gun deaths in the 23 richest countries combined. Considering that the people of those countries, as human beings, are no better or worse than any of us, well, then, why us?

Both conservatives and liberals in America operate with firmly held beliefs as to “the why” of this problem. And the reason neither can find their way out of the box toward a real solution is because, in fact, they’re both half right.

The right believes that the Founding Fathers, through some sort of divine decree, have guaranteed them the absolute right to own as many guns as they desire. And they will ceaselessly remind you that a gun cannot fire itself – that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

Of course, they know they’re being intellectually dishonest (if I can use that word) when they say that about the Second Amendment because they know the men who wrote the constitution just wanted to make sure a militia could be quickly called up from amongst the farmers and merchants should the Brits decide to return and wreak some havoc.

But they are half right when they say “Guns don’t kill people.” I would just alter that slogan slightly to speak the real truth: “Guns don’t kill people, Americans kill people.”

Because we’re the only ones in the first world who do this en masse. And you’ll hear all stripes of Americans come up with a host of reasons so that they don’t have to deal with what’s really behind all this murder and mayhem.

They’ll say it’s the violent movies and video games that are responsible. Last time I checked, the movies and video games in Japan are more violent than ours – and yet usually fewer than 20 people a year are killed there with guns – and in 2006 the number was two!

Others will say it’s the number of broken homes that lead to all this killing. I hate to break this to you, but there are almost as many single-parent homes in the U.K. as there are here – and yet, in Great Britain, there are usually fewer than 40 gun murders a year.

People like me will say this is all the result of the U.S. having a history and a culture of men with guns, “cowboys and Indians,” “shoot first and ask questions later.” And while it is true that the mass genocide of the Native Americans set a pretty ugly model to found a country on, I think it’s safe to say we’re not the only ones with a violent past or a penchant for genocide. Hello, Germany! That’s right I’m talking about you and your history, from the Huns to the Nazis, just loving a good slaughter (as did the Japanese, and the British who ruled the world for hundreds of years – and they didn’t achieve that through planting daisies). And yet in Germany, a nation of 80 million people, there are only around 200 gun murders a year.

So those countries (and many others) are just like us – except for the fact that more people here believe in God and go to church than any other Western nation.

My liberal compatriots will tell you if we just had less guns, there would be less gun deaths. And, mathematically, that would be true. If you have less arsenic in the water supply, it will kill less people. Less of anything bad – calories, smoking, reality TV – will kill far fewer people. And if we had strong gun laws that prohibited automatic and semi-automatic weapons and banned the sale of large magazines that can hold a gazillion bullets, well, then shooters like the man in Aurora would not be able to shoot so many people in just a few minutes.

But this, too, has a problem. There are plenty of guns in Canada (mostly hunting rifles) – and yet the annual gun murder count in Canada is around 200 deaths. In fact, because of its proximity, Canada’s culture is very similar to ours – the kids play the same violent video games, watch the same movies and TV shows, and yet they don’t grow up wanting to kill each other. Switzerland has the third-highest number of guns per capita on earth, but still a low murder rate.

So – why us?

I posed this question a decade ago in my film ‘Bowling for Columbine,’ and this week, I have had little to say because I feel I said what I had to say ten years ago – and it doesn’t seem to have done a whole lot of good other than to now look like it was actually a crystal ball posing as a movie.

This is what I said then, and it is what I will say again today:

 1. We Americans are incredibly good killers. We believe in killing as a way of accomplishing our goals. Three-quarters of our states execute criminals, even though the states with the lower murder rates are generally the states with no death penalty.

 Our killing is not just historical (the slaughter of Indians and slaves and each other in a “civil” war). It is our current way of resolving whatever it is we’re afraid of. It’s invasion as foreign policy. Sure there’s Iraq and Afghanistan – but we’ve been invaders since we “conquered the wild west” and now we’re hooked so bad we don’t even know where to invade (bin Laden wasn’t hiding in Afghanistan, he was in Pakistan) or what to invade for (Saddam had zero weapons of mass destruction and nothing to do with 9/11). We send our lower classes off to do the killing, and the rest of us who don’t have a loved one over there don’t spend a single minute of any given day thinking about the carnage. And now we send in remote pilotless planes to kill, planes that are being controlled by faceless men in a lush, air conditioned studio in suburban Las Vegas. It is madness.

 2. We are an easily frightened people and it is easy to manipulate us with fear. What are we so afraid of that we need to have 300 million guns in our homes? Who do we think is going to hurt us? Why are most of these guns in white suburban and rural homes? Maybe we should fix our race problem and our poverty problem (again, #1 in the industrialized world) and then maybe there would be fewer frustrated, frightened, angry people reaching for the gun in the drawer. Maybe we would take better care of each other (here’s a good example of what I mean).

 Those are my thoughts about Aurora and the violent country I am a citizen of. Like I said, I spelled it all out here if you’d like to watch it or share it for free with others. All we’re lacking here, my friends, is the courage and the resolve. I’m in if you are.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

David July 25, 2012 at 9:51 am

So…you claim that there will always be insane wackos who kill people. And you also claim that it’s American culture that breeds people to become killers.

So, in regards to the Aurora shooting, which is it for him? Wacko or American culture? There’s a reason why half the world hates you, Mr. Moore


JEC July 25, 2012 at 5:58 pm

David – you sound very insecure – hyper-sensitive to the hard realities of the US of A. Moore is suggesting we avoid absolutes – that each is part right, part wrong. But the facts are clear – have been to law enforcement for decades. America is the most violent first world nation on the planet by a large margin. It’s evident this is hard for you to accept. And I am positive half the world does not hate Michael Moore because I am positve half the world has no idea who he is (or you or me or Obama or Romney) (World is a big place and the USA makes up only 5% of it). You lay claim to false assets trying to strengthen a weak position. I guess it’s not enough for you to just say you ‘hate’ Michael Moore. My read is Moore is trying to add something thoughtful to the discussion. And does a pretty good job – how about you David? Got anything constructive to contribute, any insights to share?
Moore points out Americans fear; you select the word ‘hate’. Hate and fear are close companions. Do you think he may have a point?


David July 27, 2012 at 9:46 am

JFC, let’s talk about Point #2 for now.

What evidence is there that we are easily frightened? How many people who own firearms own them because of fear? 75%, 50%, 25%? If you own 3 or 4 guns, can you STILL asser that they own them out of fear? Wouldn’t 1 handgun make you feel more safe? Does owning an AR-15 make the average person feel more safer than a 9mm? Wouldn’t most people who were scared buy something that they could easily handle such as a 9mm?

What evidence is there that “most of these guns are in white suburban and rural homes”? Moore says “Maybe we should fix our race problem and our poverty problem (again, #1 in the industrialized world) and then maybe there would be fewer frustrated, frightened, angry people reaching for the gun in the drawer”. Does that mean that we are shooting people because we are frustrated? Angry? or just frightened? Or is it a combination?

Based on this argument, couldn’t we also say that we are the most obese country int the nation because we are easily frightened and easy to manipulate? You can’t just make a correlation between “fear” and “violence” because you want to without evidence? Can I make a correlation between “fear” and “obesity” because I want to?


JEC July 27, 2012 at 10:24 am

Fair enough – will examples do? Example, in the early 80’s Castro emptied his jails sending thousands to the shores of Florida. Though honored as refugee Cubans, these folks were viewed as less than desirable. Fear gripped the people of Miami. Handgun sails soared. The following year the death rate by guns increase over 150%; a grandmother kills her grandson who had forgotten his key; neighbors with a 25 year cantankerous history argue over shared rose bushes, but now newly armed one kills the other and both lives are ruined; a parking lot fender bender escalates because a mother had a 32 by her side and lacked the self-control to keep it there. The police chief went on TV to plead with people – have a fist fight but get rid of the guns.
Lots of people study our social temprament trying to figure out what’s going on and why. Those studies show America as exceptional among first world nations when it comes to inter-personal violence. We are after all the most incarcerated population on the planet. I think if you read Michael Moore again you’ll see he’s trying to get us to reflect on questions – that knee jerk reactions teach us nothing. That a nations’ murder rate is not decided by gun control laws, although a certain amount of self-control makes sense, like not selling ammunition on line to anyone with a Paypal account.


KO July 27, 2012 at 11:13 am

Nice response.

IMHO, American’s are stuck on retribution. Whether it’s by a prison sentance/death penalty or civil court, “I got hurt and “they” are going to hurt more” …. How about the parents of the minor killed in the racing incident on 52 calling for “justice” because the minor that was driving the car didn’t get jail or prison time? Would they be happier if everyone had died? Why not recognize that all the families have been impacted for the rest of their lives and how can we try and find a way to make sure this tragedy doesn’t happen to another family? No, America has become a society of “I’m entitled” and “where’s mine?”


David July 27, 2012 at 11:18 am

So what do you propose as a solution? Work on fixing a culture of hatred and fear………and limit firearms in the process until it’s all worked out?


JEC July 27, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Again, fair enough, and much harder to answer. Imagine in America on average a tenth of all murders are done with bare hands. That’s some rage. Most of us have seen that since 9/11 (and even before) those who would be our political leaders have used fear as a key ingredient in the campaigns. It’s hard to resist the steady drum beat. We trust little, suspect alot. As the very least we can start by rejecting those who promote fear and distrust. We are here, living side by side, our quality of life is decided by how well we work together. As far as a policy? I’d say no gun sales over the internet – you at least must show yourself (Gunshop owners should like that) – require training – and no assualt weapons, period. Some revolutions were won with nothing but rabbit guns. And quit the fiction that the 2nd amendment was anothing more than the founding fathers ensuring the ability to raise a militia from farmers.


Bearded OBcean July 25, 2012 at 10:04 am

Isn’t it quite possible, that instead of attributing every mass killing to insanity, that we can instead attribute a number of them to shear evil; Quite distict from insanity.


gail powell July 25, 2012 at 10:38 am

Michael Moore for President! Ron Paul for Vice-President!


Frank Gormlie July 25, 2012 at 11:22 am

Sure, a progressive movie maker at the top of the ticket and a racist libertarian at the bottom, I’m sure Moore would go for that.


GARY July 25, 2012 at 10:59 am

Easily frightened and manipulated……..that must be the reason we have so many gun deaths….NOT


Goatskull July 25, 2012 at 11:45 am

OK that first line is a bit of a stereotype. As someone who spent 20 years In the Navy and as a civilian who still works with military personnel every day, I can tell you matter of factly that PLENTY of middle class to upper class people volunteer and enlist, not just working class lower income. On the officer side, plenty of affluent white college kids who come from well off families decide to go for a commission, and they get sent out to the front lines too.
I definitely agree with you in your second line, and that’s one thing I have issues with. You’re very right. Many people who’ve never served and don’t have any friends or family members over there just don’t seem to care one way or the other, regardless of their own personal politically leanings or their own opinion of whether or not we should even be out there. I’ll be honest here, my feelings towards those people boarder on hatred. I don’t care what their reason for indifference is. I don’t care if their indifference is because they have no friends or family members over there fighting. I don’t care if they’ve never in their lives met a person in uniform. I don’t care if they don’t know any military veterans. There is no excuse for them so I say f*** them.


Maureen July 25, 2012 at 12:19 pm

My thoughts, Mr. Moore;

In the US it is made easy to to obtain weapons designed to kill.

Our mental health professionals and institutions are unable or unwilling to seriously diagnose, treat and track mental illness.

The aggrandisement of individual achievement over community effort and accomplishment facilitates ego centricism, rivalry and alienation.


Frances O'Neill Zimmerman July 25, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Let’s just ban assault weapons and automatic weapons outside of law enforcement and the military. Let’s require a long waiting period for handgun-buyers while their identities are checked with authorities. Let’s eliminate the possibility of anonymously buying vast amounts of ammo on the internet.

All those 800+ out of 1,000 Americans who own guns could keep their weapons and recite their Second Amendment rights. It would be a beginning.


KO July 27, 2012 at 9:25 am

Seems like a reasonable proposal to anyone that’s not a wacko and doesn’t need 3000 rounds of ammunition at their house ….. Not to infer it solves the problem, but it makes the process leading to mass killings tougher and potentially easier to flag before they happen ….


Christopher Moore July 25, 2012 at 8:31 pm

I don’t think any amount of gun control legislation will really do a damned thing about spree killers, or about the people that kill their families over financial pressures, etc.

As the article points out Canadians have just as many firearms, but nowhere near the kind of rates of violence & homicide we do. And even very strict gun control regimes have failed to prevent this kind of mass shooting crime in Germany, Norway, etc.

I suspect a more effective mental health system than we have now might limit this kind of thing. But I doubt any sort of policy changes whatsoever would eliminate it completely.


Marco July 27, 2012 at 7:56 am

Really good article.

First of all, Ill say that I live in the UK. I like the US, and I believe it’s people gives a lot of good to the world. Unfortunately, the US government seems incapable of replicating the good will of its people – both internally and externally.

The purpose of government is to look after the best interests of its people. This is inclusive of everyone irrelevant of how much tax each individual pays. This includes the poor, unemployed, elderly, young, sick as well as those well capable of looking after themselves. A genuine all inclusive health care system is a good place to start. Yes its expensive, yes it doesn’t always work great but there is nothing I have seen from a private healthcare system which improves on this.

The next point is welfare and benefit – people turn to crime for a reason and the majority of the time its poverty. Provide for these people, help them help themselves.

And how is this paid for? The US currently spends over half its annual budget on defence, why? Why does the US need military bases in half the countries in the world. Who is going to attack the US? The answer is no one!

Of course 9/11 was a terrible event but take a look through the course of history and you will find direct links between US foreign policy and the Al Queda propaganda. Scale back on foreign interference and look after your own people. Its really that simple.

There are other measures – I was shocked to find out that Americans generally have an annual holiday entitlement of 2 weeks. The norm in Europe is 6 weeks (including public holidays)…

With a happier and healthier people, you might find that gun crime starts to reduce. Whilst I would strongly advocate tighter gun control, I respect that Americans want the right to own a gun. Why that gun needs to be a fully automatic assault rifle with a high capacity magazine, you will need to ask the individual…

Re: guns, a national health service, foreign policy etc. the default position of the politicians is to fall behind left or right wing rhetoric. Lets face it, the majority of the time, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Let go of your idealistic views and find the compromise where everyone benefits.

These kind of changes need to come from government but it can only come from a government not living in fear of losing the massive donations they receive from the various large corporate organisations. The only way that fear can be removed is by the people itself. The people of america need to make those in charge realise that they expect certain things from their politicians and those things definitively do not include sitting in the pocket of a wealthy minority or corporate america. I think the 99% movement tried this, but the message got lost as there wasn’t 1 coherent voice there to speak out.


Marco July 27, 2012 at 8:10 am

To be clear, when I say US government, I am referring to the political members of both the democrats and the republicans.


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