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Flatbush Flashback

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, cheaperthandirt.com; 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.

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