WASHINGTON, October 10, 2014 ― October 9 would have been John Lennon’s 74th birthday. Last spring, Yoko Ono tweeted that “Over 1,057,000 people have been killed by guns in the USA since John Lennon was shot and killed on 8 Dec 1980.”
Today, one should wonder where the gun debate has gone. Nothing has changed. People are still being killed. Three hundred and seven in Chicago. Two hundred and sixty four in Los Angeles. One hundred and sixty nine in Baltimore. All in 2014. Nothing has changed. Violence is committed every day, everywhere. From too many of our police to our children, violence is the first answer.
Ono is the widow of the former Beatle and icon of the peace movement. Lennon was gunned down outside his home at The Dakota, in New York City on December 8, 1980.
It was a shot heard round the music world, one of those moments of violence and great sorrow when the world seems suddenly to stop in disbelief.
The shooting of President John F. Kennedy, the shooting of Martin Luther King Jr., the assassination of Senator Bobby Kennedy and the murder of Mohandas Gandhi were other such moments.
Ono’s tweet shows the pair of blood splattered glasses, with the iconic New York skyline behind them, worn by Lennon at the time of his murder. The image is quietly arresting, weirdly peaceful.
It was also a prayer and a demand, demanding that we pause and remember, pleading with us to act, to stop the insanity of violence. I remember the night Lennon was killed, where I was, what I was doing when I heard the news. It was crisp and cold in Chicago. That day is as vivid in my memory as that other cold day, 17 years earlier, when a shooter took the life of President Kennedy.
Years later, the memory remains as sharp as it was on that November day.
Whether guns should or shouldn’t be controlled, our obsession with different kinds of guns and the size of the magazines misses something.
All the mass shooters of the last generation would fit comfortably in a small living room. The million people killed by guns since John Lennon died weren’t killed by assault rifles or in mass shootings. They were killed in a million little acts of violence, either self-inflicted or inflicted at the hands of hundreds of thousands of little killers.
It is not the guns but the killers who need to be controlled. They won’t be, because killers will always kill and it’s easier to talk about guns.
In a polarized government filled with people more interested in sound bites than in finding serious solutions, “reasonable” is a fantasy that will never happen. Feinstein cares about grandstanding, not about children, or she’d have pursued legislation that, if it had been in place for the last generation, might have saved more than the handful of lives lost to “assault” rifles.
Her bill was never meant to stop the killing of children. It is only her hubris that makes her stand up, again and again, an ancient pile of self-important meat that flaps its meaty lips to make meat sounds that mean nothing.
But that does not mean we can’t look for enforceable laws to protect ourselves from those who kill, whether with a gun, with a baseball bat, or with a truck full of fertilizer.
True change, though, means that we must change as people. We must stop clouding our judgment with fear and stop lashing out at each other in anger. Our leaders need to lead, and focus on the things that blight our children’s lives and sow the seeds of violence. They should allow jobs to be created so that children have a future to live for. This spectacularly wealthy country is pocked with blighted communities, violent places where the way to get ahead is to prey on the weak and to band together with the violent. The people of those communities need ways to support themselves and their families that don’t involve the disregard for life.
We won’t stop every killer. Assassins will still seek infamy by killing the famous or the helpless. As at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church and Oklahoma City’s Murrah Building, haters will find ways to make society grieve. We can’t end it, but maybe we can stop some of the random violence that is killing our children.
We can imagine a better life for them and make it real with better schools, better jobs, a life without gang war and the war against drugs bleeding the life out of urban communities.
Can we imagine all the people living all their days. Because whether it is John Lennon, John Kennedy, Jonylah Watkins, the children of Chicago or any of the children at Sandy Hook, or Columbine, or Aurora, or Virginia Tech., we lost the gifts they each had to give to the world.
It is insanity at a grand level that we live with. And we are poorer because of it.
(this article is updated and reprinted in memory of John Lennon, who would have been 74 years old and is still missed).