- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

Michael Moore, the gonzo filmmaker whose latest subject is America's rampant gun violence, is a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association.
NRA members who are familiar with Mr. Moore's public persona the mouthy muckraker who has to turn right to look at Al Gore may actually find themselves not hating "Bowling for Columbine," which opens today in area theaters.
"I think the NRA is right when they say, 'Guns don't kill people; people kill people,'" he says, slumped contentedly in a well-appointed sitting room off the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Northwest.
"I don't want to repeal the Second Amendment."
Even though he lives among the glitterati in New York's Upper West Side, Mr. Moore, 48, makes a point of being unglamorous. Wearing his trademark baseball cap and a pair of warm-up pants, he wouldn't look out of place in Laurel Race Track's grandstand area.
"Who put me here? I just get picked up, and they shove me into these places," he says.
Mr. Moore reveals that he has designs on the NRA's presidency although he would like to modify its famous motto as follows: "Guns don't kill people, Americans kill people." Formerly the editor of Mother Jones and the Michigan Voice, Mr. Moore is famous for such slash-and-burn sound bites.
He started his filmmaking career in the mid-1980s, when his hometown of Flint, Mich., began spiraling into post-industrial decline.
"I got fired from being a magazine editor, so I didn't feel like doing anything with print," he says. "So I thought I'd teach myself how to make a movie."
His 1989 debut, "Roger & Me," in which he humorously attempts to track down former General Motors Chairman Roger Smith for an interview, won him critical praise and steady work.
In his latest documentary, Mr. Moore tries to figure out why there are so many more than 11,000 annually gun-related homicides in America, while other Western countries have so few.
"Having all these gun control laws won't take care of the problem. The problem is us," Mr. Moore says, "Everyone should ask this question regardless of whether they're liberal or conservative: Why is it us? Why not the Brits, why not the Canadians?"
Canada, he says, is a good example of "how you can have your guns. They get to have 7 million guns and 10 million homes and they don't kill each other."
"We're better than this. We're a good people," he says. "Why is that collectively we can't get this right?"
As Mr. Moore sees it, the problem dates back to the era when the American Colonies were first settled. "When Europeans first came over, they came in fear and they came in greed," he says.
And Mr. Moore has the kernel of a provocative idea: The right and left are both wrong about gun violence.
The unique thing about America, he says in "Bowling for Columbine," isn't the gazillions of guns or the lack of regulation or a high divorce rate the problem is, we're all so paranoid and freakishly afraid of one another.
"We have such an ignorant nation. People don't know what's going on," he says, "and because you lack information, it's easier to become afraid."
Here we confront the paradox of Michael Moore: To engage him and his work, you have to cut through a haze of rhetoric that sounds like refried Noam Chomsky.
It's clear from the documentary that Mr. Moore didn't go into the project with his mind already made up. As he puts it, "My feet were not in cement on this issue."
But instead of exploring contemporary causes of America's pervading pall of fear say, news media that manufacture hysteria, a topic dealt with in the movie in conversation he is quick to rely on pat, hard-left generalizations about America's reportedly greedy, Eurocentric roots.
After all, quiescent Canada was settled by the same European stock that founded America.
For Mr. Moore, gun violence has always been a thread in a much bigger weave of problems. This becomes apparent when he recalls what prompted him to make a film about the issue: the April 20, 1999, massacre at Columbine High School in suburban Denver.
Two disaffected teen-agers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, gunned down 12 fellow students, a teacher and, at the conclusion of the rampage, themselves. The two killers had gone bowling that morning, as part of an alternative physical education class.
"OK, that's enough," Mr. Moore remembers thinking. He began work on "Bowling for Columbine" later that summer.
"I've been living with this since I was a kid, growing up during the assassinations of the '60s, the Vietnam War just a whole culture of violence. I'm tired of it."
These days, many residents of the Washington metropolitan region may feel the same way, now that routine trips to shopping centers have people thinking about sniper sightlines and highway escape patterns.
Mr. Moore says he doubts additional gun regulations would have prevented the sniper spree currently roiling the D.C. area. He notes that the killer or killers may be using a "hunting rifle with a good scope."
"Nothing that's proposed even by the most radical gun control groups would stop this gun from being purchased," he says.
He does, however, favor the implementation of a national ballistics "fingerprinting" database, which he says would help investigators identify the exact gun being used in the killings.
"It's too bad that George Bush and the NRA want to tie the hands of the police trying to find this guy," he says.
Mr. Moore continues in this hyperbolic, semicampaign mode:
The looming war against Iraq is a "big lie," a "weapon of mass distraction"; President Bush blew his mission to capture Osama bin Laden, "just like Daddy" failed to defeat Saddam Hussein; the September 11 terrorist attacks may have been prevented if "200 FBI agents weren't investigating a stain on a blue dress."
Then, from deep left field, comes this humdinger: "There's one Democrat who could beat Bush hands down" in 2004 former President Carter.
Mr. Moore is nothing if not a cure for boredom.
"I don't want to pretend to have the answers, but I think I have some pretty decent questions."

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