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Flatbush Flashback

Marky Got His Gun (So Did Everybody Else Who Wanted One)

On this 35th anniversary of John Lennon's assassination, I'm finding it difficult not to think about guns. But it seems that anything I could say about them has already been said repeatedly by people far more conversant with the issue than I am.

Is there anything to be gained by expressing my disgust with the NRA, who apparently believe that everybody over the age of three should be armed; the Congress, who are on the take from the NRA; and the menagerie of candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination, one of whom, a medical doctor, has said, “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away”?

I doubt it.

In Nowhere Man, I explain that Mark David Chapman acquired the handgun he used to murder Lennon by telling a lie on his pistol-permit application. He said he’d never been institutionalized for mental illness, when, in fact, he had. But nobody did a background check, and Marky got his gun.

Of Chapman’s delusional act, I wrote, “Nobody has ever assassinated a popular entertainer before. This is completely different, a new kind of madness. It’s very scary shit.”

Thirty-five years later, this “very scary shit” has gone well beyond assassinating popular entertainers. I now live in a country that’s in the throes of a guerrilla war being waged by terrorists and unaffiliated crazies of all stripes and their supporters in the NRA, Congress, and on the campaign trail.

The other night, my wife and I were eating dinner in a crowded restaurant that we’ve been going to for years. And though I didn’t say a word about it at the time because I didn’t want to ruin the meal, I kept glancing out the window and thinking that this is probably not a good place to eat anymore. The restaurant, situated on a wide avenue that branches off into a warren of streets and provides easy access to bridges and tunnels, is a good target for somebody who wants to do a mass shooting and escape. It’s better to eat in a restaurant on a narrow side street prone to traffic jams—I thought that would be a less inviting target.

This is what it’s come to in the land of the free and the home of the brave—everybody walking around thinking about how to avoid being shot and how to protect yourself when the shooting starts. And though it would be nice if Yoko Ono’s “Imagine Peace” were something more than a cliché as absurd as the Republicans’ offering “thoughts and prayers” to victims of the latest massacre, it’s not.

It’s going to take a lot more than imagination and prayer to solve the problems of a country where at last count there were more guns (357 million) than people (317 million).

In 2015, we are all at least as vulnerable as John Lennon was, and he was more vulnerable than he ever imagined. Read More 

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American Riflemen

Yesterday, a reader, Debra Wheels, mentioned in her comment about my blog post, "America the Deranged," that maybe the best thing I can do about the insanity of as many as 300-million guns circulating in this country, and the National Rifle Association's advocacy of putting even more guns into circulation as a solution to the problem, is to continue writing about it.

Ms. Wheels may be pleased to hear that I am writing about it in the book I'm currently working on, Bobby in Naziland. Unbeknownst to me, as the slaughter was occurring in Newtown on Friday morning, I was editing a chapter that is, in part, about the NRA. That was what drew me to the organization's website and the website for its magazine, American Rifleman.

The Naziland chapter concerns two characters, military veterans trained in the use of firearms, who, in the aftermath of the Harlem and Watts riots of 1965, join the NRA. These characters believe that more rioting is imminent, and that the police aren’t up to the task of protecting them. So, they intend to take matters into their own hands, get some guns, and shoot anybody who attempts to loot and burn their homes or businesses. The likeminded NRA, through their magazine, encourages them to do so.

The chapter is primarily about fear and racism, two emotions that the NRA expertly exploits. But I was having a hard time coming up with a title for the chapter. Various plays on “The Right to Bear Arms” and “The Second Amendment” just weren’t working. That was when I took a look at the two NRA sites, and the title of their magazine jumped out at me. All I had to do was make it plural and I had the perfect chapter title: “American Riflemen.”

It was soon afterwards that I made myself a cup of coffee and turned on the news. Read More 
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America the Deranged

Have you seen the National Rifle Association's website lately? How about the website for American Rifleman, the NRA's official magazine (so to speak)? They both have the look of deranged parodies, offering such fare as a video about the "Gun of the Week," the Glock 17, similar to one of the guns used in Newtown, CT; an advertisement for a discount online gun dealer,; and an article about the ever-popular Charter Arms revolver, which was the gun Mark David Chapman used to murder John Lennon, and which he was easily able to purchase in Hawaii.

Having written about Chapman in my book Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, I've had plenty of opportunity to think about how easy it is for crazy people in America to get their hands on guns. And after listening to three days of TV blather from such luminaries as Joe Scarborough, who said it's not only the availability of guns that's the problem, it's also violent Hollywood movies and violent video games, I'd like to say: What the fuck are you talking about?

The problem is the availability of guns. The problem is that in America, there are between 200 and 300-million guns floating around. And if you think movies and video games are part of the problem, then you also need to blame books and record albums.

Chapman killed Lennon because, he said, The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger, and a photograph on the cover of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper inspired him to do so. Chapman, who had attempted suicide and had once been confined to a psychiatric institution, believed that by murdering Lennon, he’d write chapter 27 of The Catcher in the Rye (the book has 26 chapters) in Lennon’s blood and literally vanish into the book’s pages to become The Catcher in the Rye for his generation. And when he walked into a gun shop in Honolulu to buy his Charter Arms revolver, all he had to do was fill out an application. One of the questions on the application was: Have you ever been hospitalized for mental illness? Chapman lied, but nobody bothered to do a background check, and he got his gun—for $169, cash on the barrel (so to speak).

In the past 32 years, it’s become easier to get guns, there are more of them, they are deadlier, they are in the possession of more mentally unstable people, and horrific shootings have become more routine.

No, I have no idea what to do about any of this. Even if the obvious solutions are employed—stricter gun laws, banning assault weapons, mandatory background checks, extensive waiting periods, easier access to psychiatric care, etc., etc.—and even if these “solutions” get 100-million guns off the street, that still leaves between 100 and 200-million guns.

America is a deranged and violent country, built on a foundation of genocide, slavery, and Puritanism. Gun violence is a symptom of that derangement and the NRA is a well-financed promoter of it. The only difference I can see between Osama bin Laden and Wayne LaPierre is that one of them was shot dead by an assault rifle. Read More 
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