John Lennon: Seeking answers to gun violence on his 75th Birthday

We won’t stop every killer. We can’t end it, but maybe we can stop some of the random violence that is killing our children by imagining a kinder, more civil, world.


WASHINGTON, Oct. 9, 2015 ― Had he not been murdered, today would be John Lennon’s 75th birthday.

In 2014, Yoko Ono tweeted, “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, with the horror of the shootings at Umpqua Community College still raw, one should wonder what the gun debate has accomplished. Nothing has changed. People are still being killed.

Despite the party that would ban and confiscate all guns holding political power, not one new, effective gun law has been put into place for one very simple reason: Gun laws will not stop criminals from killing people. The numbers killed in Democratic enclaves where the gun laws are already strict, places like Chicago, Baltimore and Los Angeles continue to climb.

Oregon’s gun laws, including the universal background check, did not stop the Umpqua shooter.

Nothing has changed. Violence is committed every day, everywhere.

For too many of our police, children, media, politicians, media and civic and academic leaders, violence in thought, and / or,  is the first, and last, answer. This week both journalists and college professors spoke out in the most despicable manner toward a man who is as gentle as John Lennon was, and they reside among the roots of the violence we suffer.

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No it is not the lack of gun laws.

John Lennon was gunned down outside his home at the Dakota, in New York City on Dec. 8, 1980.

It was a shot heard that resonated around the music world, one of those moments of violence and great sorrow when the world seems suddenly to stop in disbelief. To the music world, it was second only in chronology to the loss of Buddy Holly.

For history, Lennon’s murder joined the murders of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Sen. Robert Kennedy and Mohandas Gandhi. Moments of violence destroyed purveyors of peace.

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 is 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 when we woke up to the news that life had changed.

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 of the horror of  JFK’s and Bobby Kennedy’s and Martin Luther King’s killings remains as sharp as it was so many decades ago.

The non-stop argument whether guns should or shouldn’t be controlled, our obsession with different kinds of guns and the size of the magazines misses something. It’s not the NRA. If the NRA were disbanded it would not stop gun violence.  And while getting a gun should be at least as difficult as getting a driver’s license, laws will not stop gun violence either.

What we need to change is how we treat other people.

We need to change the feelings of entitlement that we are raising our children with.  We need to create better mental health awareness and treatment and laws that allow a parent, a school teacher, a police officer or a friend to say something when they see something, say something without the fear of legal reprisal.

And we need to change the conversation we are having as a nation.  Life is precious.  Your life.  My life. Blue, black, brown, yellow, young, old, born and unborn lives matter.  We need to embrace the golden rule of “due onto others what you would have done to you” and teach it to our children.

We need to imagine all the people living for today – living for each other.  But how do we do that?


All the mass shooters of the last generation would fit comfortably in a small living room. The millions of 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.

Dianne Feinstein cares about grandstanding, standing before her easel laden with pictures of scary assault rifles. But she is not there for or about children, or she would 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.

But the Democrat’s bills, even Hillary’s latest plans to curb gun violence, are not meant to stop the killing of children. It is only the hubris of Clinton and Feinstein that makes them 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. But that seems beyond our legislature, who either wants to enact meaningless laws or to bring out the Constitution and speak of rights to bear arms.

True change, though, means that we must change as people.

Screen shot 2015-10-09 at 2.45.02 PMWe must stop clouding our judgment with fear and stop lashing out at each other in anger. We must think two, or three times, four if needed before we call someone a “coon” or scream that one group has more rights over another — despite a history that has not treated all people fairly.

Or not tolerate a coffee barista being stupid as the demean the very people they will be calling when their lives and livelihoods are next threatened.

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. And we need to, from the very top, stop treating each other so badly.


We won’t stop every killer. Assassins will still seek infamy by killing the famous or the helpless because 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, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston or Umpqua Community College, we lost the gifts each person murdered 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 75 years old and is still missed).

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