A Convicted Murderer’s Case for Gun Control theatlantic.com‘s headline proclaims. Strapline: Why a man serving 28 years to life at the Attica Correctional Facility believes a few simple laws could significantly affect criminal behavior. Taken on face value, it’s a pretty compelling argument for gun control. But why approach a pro-gun control treatise without applying critical thinking skills? That’s like trusting testimonials embedded in an infomercial. So let’s start with a simple question: is this for real? Does this convict exist and did he write this editorial? Well . . .
The author’s name is John Lennon—just like the ex-Beatle gunned down at the Dakota apartment building in Manhattan. What are the odds? By the same token, it’s odd that John Lennon (the murderer) wrote his anti-gun screed from Attica prison. John Lennon (the singer) wrote a song about prison conditions called Attica State.
The Atlantic ed provides a pic of [the other] John Lennon. A member of TTAG’s AI found a John Lennon at Attica Prison born in ’77 convicted of Second Degree murder, up for parole in 2029. So he does exist. Anyway, the editorial doesn’t contain any objective information on Mr. Lennon’s “case.” But it does start with his description of his crime:
It was swift and cowardly.
Defenseless, distracted by music, Alex sat in the passenger seat of the rental as I made my way to the trunk. I remembered Frankie’s words: “It’s loaded, cocked, and the safety is off. All you have to do is pull the trigger.”
Mr. Lennon’s lead suggests our anti-hero didn’t know much about guns. Yet later in the piece he says “My first gun was a chrome .25 caliber automatic with a pink, pearl handle. It was beautiful.” He claims he was 14 at the time. Lennon writes that he was in his “early twenties” when he shot Alex. The shooter had some ten years to get to [pink pearl-handled] grips with firearms operation. So why the gun-handling instrux?
Perhaps Mr. Lennon’s illegal gun dealer “Frankie” handed an experienced criminal a gun unlocked and loaded because he thought Lennon was an idiot. More likely: it’s complete cock and bull: a panty-waisted anti-gunner channeling his inner Raymond Chandler. Just putting it out there. And wondering why Mr. Lennon described his partner-in-crime Alex as “defenseless.” It certainly doesn’t jibe with the next bit of the narrative:
At that point in our lives, Alex and I, both in our early twenties, were gun-toting thugs immersed in gangster culture. We were out on bail for separate gun charges. A few years before, Alex had been acquitted of murder for allegedly shooting a woman through the peephole of a Brooklyn housing project door. After that, his reputation preceded him.
On that night I knew Alex had been extorting a man who sold drugs for me. It sounds sick but part of me aspired to murder because it’s considered an accomplishment in gangster culture — it would enhance my reputation, complete my image. Yet another part of me knew this culture was foul and murder was horrible.
Well that’s a problem. A man out on bail for gun charges murdered someone in cold blood. And now he’s lobbying for stricter gun control laws. Assuming the self-described gang-banger had one or two prior convictions (ya think?) perhaps we should stop right here and say that gun control laws aren’t the problem. Enforcement is. More specifically, Lennon, and people like Lennon, are.
Which he fully admits. Well kinda. That bit about Mr. Lennon’s conflicted emotions regarding murder sounds . . . ridiculous. (Not to mention suspiciously erudite). I wanted to be bad—being bad was good—but I knew being bad was bad. At best, it’s jailhouse re-imagination. At worst, it’s dime store novel nonsense.
Despite the Xanax dulling my emotions, my heart pounded when I picked up the M-16. A surge of power rushed through me when I felt the trigger. I pointed in the driver’s side window … and squeezed.
Arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to a jarring 28 years to life at Attica, I entered prison. For many years I sifted through a host of rationalizations, but today I accept responsibility. I’m sorry for killing Alex, sorry for taking all the life he could have had.
Wait. What? He was on Xanax? That’s not exactly what I’d call the twenty-something gang-bangers drug of choice. And if Mr. Lennon was taking too high a dose of the drug (dulling his emotions) would his heart be pounding? Would he feel a “surge of power”? Yet more convenient cognitive dissonance.
Now, about that M16 . . .
How many criminals use an M16 rifle—a military firearm—for a point-blank assassination? I’m not saying it couldn’t happen. I’m saying I’ve never heard of such a thing. An AR15, maybe. But then again, maybe not. According to this chart of 2011 firearms-related homicides in New York state, out of 774 total deaths, killers used a rifle in just five incidents. I’d bet the farm on the fact that none of them was a gang-banger and none of them involved an M16.
. . . at 14 years old I had the same hole in my heart that President Obama, in a Chicago speech, stated other child killers had. I had no business with that gun. Yet making guns accessible to troubled souls is business as usual in America.
Here’s how the game works. Criminals manipulate people with clean records — cash-strapped students, vulnerable women, drug addicts — to buy guns for them in states with minimal oversight, like Virginia. The criminal transports the guns to New York, then resells them or trades them for drugs that he’ll take back to Virginia to sell. This was the hustle when I was out in the ‘90s. I’m sure some form of it still continues.
A cold-blooded killer who’s an Obama supporter? Huh. More to the point, Mr. Lennon’s suddenly transformed himself from a “gun-toting thug immersed in gangster culture” to a “troubled soul” with a “hole in my heart” (not holed enough for Alex’s family methinks). This “pivot point” (as pandering pols like to call it) sets the reader up for the meat of the matter: railing against straw purchases (buyers with clean records buying guns for criminals). Which are illegal.
You can tell Mr. Lennon is twisting the facts to suit his narrative by the crack about “states with minimal oversight, like Virginia.” If we’re talking about gun store purchases, and he is, Virginia has the same gun buying background checks and anti-straw purchasing laws as any other state in the U.S. (Quick reminder: those are federal gun laws.) Also, FWIW, transporting a firearm into New York illegally for an illegal sale is illegal.
I’m not an interstate gun smuggler, nor do I play one on the Internet. But I reckon Mr. Lennon’s assertion that the majority of guns going into New York are part of a “triangle trade” (guns > drugs > cash) is impure BS. Cash is king. Period. But the three-cornered criminal conspiracy makes better (i.e. scarier) reading—even if Mr. Lennon backs off from the concept by professing a lack of current experience.
However, since the Senate — the most undemocratic aspect of our government — halted gun legislation in April, the nation has moved on. But the shootings and killings in the world I know have continued and will continue unless we refocus on the root of the problem: our gun culture, and the easy access it affords criminals. Background checks for killing machines cannot be rudimentary, where criminals know every step — the rules of the game I describe have to change.
I find it quite amazing, not to say completely incredible, that a convicted murderer has such a strong view of the Senate’s role within the balance of powers established by the United States Constitution. Also strange: immediately after professing ignorance of what’s going down on the street Mr. Lennon claims intimate knowledge of gun-related violence “in the world I know.” There I was thinking the world he knows is the Attica State Prison.
Mr. Lennon believes the current background check system for firearms purchases is “rudimentary.” Criminals are outsmarting the system. So we must change it to stop the shooting and killings. We’re listening . . .
Disconnected Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, says, “Criminals do not submit to background checks now. They will not submit to expanded background checks.” Grassley’s full-scale alternative gun measures, which focused on funding prosecutions for illegal gun possessions rather than background checks, helped derail the legislation in April. Aggressive prosecutions are punishment measures that, frankly, do not deter criminals from acquiring, possessing, or killing with guns. Conversely, intensifying background checks will change the game and spook those who buy guns for criminals. This will deter so-called straw purchases.
This political analysis is no more coming from an inmate at Attica State Prison than this post is coming from the boudoir of an unlinked Israeli supermodel. The passage is way too Inside Baseball and the sentence construction is pure Huffington Post. Frankly? Frankly my dear I don’t think that’s an ex-con’s conversational style. Conversely? Conversely I’ve not been huffing glue. So I’m calling B.S.
Even if we continue the suspension of disbelief, what the hell does “intensifying” a background check mean? And where did Lennon get the idea that someone in jail for a crime like, say, “gun charges” isn’t being deterred from shooting and killing people? Laws that prohibit are chronically irretrievably ineffective (see: Prohibition). Laws that punish git ‘er done. Provided they’re implemented. Which they weren’t in Mr. Lennon’s case. At least not early enough.
Government should also create a system that tracks gun-purchasing patterns. Credit-card companies already respond to irregular spending patterns—I used to shop with stolen credit cards, and when the employee at the register said, “I have to call the company,” I knew the jig was up. Similarly, it should raise red flags when a person who has never bought a gun suddenly buys five handguns. If the buyer is, for example, purchasing the guns for a drug dealer in the parking lot, he or she will be shaken if the sales clerk says something like, “We have to call and document this purchase with a new agency.”
The jig was up? Someone’s been watching too many black-and-white gangster movies. Besides, WTF? Does Mr. Lennon know that there’s already a long gun registry in the U.S. border states that requires gun dealers in those regions to notify the ATF when a customer buys two or more large caliber rifles in the same week? And the net effect on reducing gun-related crime has been . . . nada.
And what new agency is Mr. Lennon proposing? Americans need a new agency monitoring gun sales like we need another Ruby Ridge or Waco. Or DHS, TSA or NSA, for that matter.
Likewise, it’s bizarre that the bazaars selling guns aren’t regulated. Websites like Armslist.com provide a buffet of leads for charismatic criminals to buy guns from private sellers. These sites are like perpetual gun shows, which are truly the ultimate forums to make connections for criminals who blend in well — like me.
Bottom line, criminals create an indirect demand for gun manufacturers and merchandisers. For most criminals, purchasing a gun isn’t a one-shot deal. I had two separate gun-possession charges before I killed with an assault rifle. These are my convictions, but they hardly represent the number of guns I went through during my criminal career.
Bizarre bazaars. Charismatic criminals. Firearms forums. Glad to see English teachers in Attica have such a clever student. Only Mr. Lennon’s argument seems to be spinning off into space. His assertion that “criminals create an indirect demand” is not only a piercing glimpse into the obvious it’s also entirely misleading. How much of a market do criminals create for guns? Unknown but I’m thinking it’s statistically insignificant.
The fact that Mr. Lennon had not one but TWO gun-possession charges against him before he killed (with an assault rifle) is important. Again, assuming he exists, what was this gang banger doing on the streets?
Engulfed in an orgy of violence, my last month of freedom was chaos. Home invasions, robberies, murder — at the center of it all were guns: They would be disposed of, tossed after shoot-outs, then bought again. Easily. And I always bought new guns, so the notion that criminals just use stolen guns, acquired from a neighborhood burglar, is absurd. (The paper trail may suggest that, because the people making straw purchases also file false reports claiming the guns stolen.) Like most criminals, I created an extraordinary demand for the gun sector.
Home invasions? Armed robberies? Murder? A man confessing to committing heinous acts of terror and violence is asking law-abiding Americans—some half of which own firearms to protect themselves against exactly this kind of anti-social thuggery—to accept the idea that guns were at the center of his crime spree? How about this: John Lennon was at the center of John Lennon’s crime spree.
Its worth repeating: this screed proves that we need more criminal control. Not gun control.
By this point, Mr. Lennon has stopped making sense. New guns (define please) on the black market proves absolutely nothing about whether the guns in question were straw-purchased or stolen. Lennon’s bypassed logic as surely as the President skips Passport Control.
I’m where I belong. But without a gun I would not have killed. Like most misguided, impulsive youth in America, I was emotionally and socially retarded, with a killing machine on my waist. The gun sector and I do not share the same culpability. Hardly. It’s unethical, however, for stakeholders of Sturm, Ruger and Smith & Wesson to contest oversight that would prevent arming individuals like me. Hiding behind manipulative interpretations of the Second Amendment and arguments crafted by the gun lobby, which suggest that the panacea is to enrich our moral fiber, is no help. God knows I’d support moral reform — but fixing moral decay is a tall order. Meanwhile, our free-market gun culture is out of control. Let’s fix that. Now.
Mr. Lennon is certainly correct about one thing: he’s found his proper place in society. Anyone promoting the idea that criminals without guns won’t kill is extremely dangerous—with or without a gun. As for the rest of his blather—naming and blaming gun makers for “misinterpreting” the Second Amendment and “allowing” him to illegally possess and use firearms in the commission of felony murder (and lesser crimes)—GTFO.
Congress needs to take up gun control again when members return to Washington in September. This debate isn’t going away. “The world is watching the United States Senate, and we will be held accountable,” Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal, one of the senators at the helm of gun-control efforts, said after the bill stalled this spring. Perhaps it’s too utilitarian or oversimplified, but as a nation we’re left with the following question: Is the benefit of experiencing that surge of power, which some individuals get from sport shooting, worth the cost of unhealthy individuals, like me, experiencing a similar surge of power while they swiftly and cowardly shoot people?
For our own sake, for the sake of thousands of victims’ families affected, and thousands more whose lives will be affected, the answer seems clear.
No mention of Americans’ right to keep and bear arms to protect themselves against animals like Mr. Lennon and friends? Or the reason for the Second Amendment in the first place (defense against government tyranny)? Just a simple comparo between sport shooting and cold-blooded murder? I wonder why that is?
Bottom line: you couldn’t make this shit up. Only someone did. And it stinks. No surprise there. Whenever gun control advocates hide their true intentions to argue for civilian disarmament they create a miasma of misdirection that appeals to the gullible, the willfully ignorant and the intellectually dishonest.
Shame on The Atlantic Monthly for lowering their standards this far. I call on the editors (and industrious readers) to publish a link to an article on Mr. Lennon’s homicide conviction. And an article from an upstanding member of society willing to stand up to men without shame, honor or respect for human life.