Corn & Lennon:

Against those who say that Pajamas Media contains nothing new or interesting, I should note that it was via that website that I learned today was the anniversary of the John Lennon murder. It's not a date that is marked on my calendar, as I never cared for the Beatles' music, politics, '60s or '70s culture generally, or any of the various causes that have sort of collected like lint on the Lennon image in the decades since. Lennon glasses, like Che shirts, are invariably the sign of rot.

David Corn remembered, though. He's blogged a fairly interesting piece on his one and only political speech. It deserves some comment.

Corn was apparently deeply moved by the news of Lennon's tragic death. The fact that I never cared for Lennon the man, his music or his politics doesn't change the fact that his murder was an evil thing, one that rightly excites condemnation and wrath in the heart of a good man. I certainly sympathize with anyone so moved by this or any similar event.

For whatever reason, however, Corn's wrath was directed not at the murderer, but at a sort of symbol: the NRA headquarters building, which he was walking by on an errand.

I walked down 16th Street NW, and within a few blocks I passed the headquarters of the National Rifle Association, an entire building next to one of Washington's lovely traffic circles. I stared at the building. My sadness and numbness slid into anger. I didn't know yet that Lennon's killer, Mark David Chapman, had purchased the .38-caliber handgun with which he shot Lennon, at a Hawaii gun store despite having a record of mental illness. But I did know that the NRA and its allies in the gun industry were one of the most powerful lobbies in town and that their primary concern was easy access to weapons. I started talking to the imposing building. No, I said, no, you're not going to get off scott-free here, no, no way. And an idea struck.
The NRA actually has three primary concerns. One of them is, by necessity, the defense of the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms for lawful citizens. Another -- the one that escapes Mr. Corn -- is making sure that those who misuse guns are put away forever, as for example in its Project EXILE. But its founding purpose, and the purpose in which it continues to lead the world, was to provide instruction in the safe and accurate use of firearms. In large part because of the NRA, accidental shootings have dropped every year since we began keeping records on them. The NRA, if you wanted to characterize its purpose in a single sentence, is more properly focused on "developing among the citizens a capacity for the safe and lawful use of firearms."

To put it another way: if Lennon's murderer faced a jury entirely composed of NRA members, he would be in far greater peril than if he faced a jury entirely composed of gun control advocates. For all that NRA members (myself included) defend the legal right to keep and bear arms, we also are the worst sort of foe to those who misuse the rights we defend.

But no matter. Corn was angry and young, and his wrath focused on the NRA. So he formed a protest group, which found ready volunteers in the climate of the day.
And I asked a copy shop--no Kinko's back then--to print hundreds of copies on a super-rush basis. It could in those days take a day or two to get such a job done. The person at the counter looked at the material and said, "Come back in an hour."

CAGV grew in numbers, by which I mean that several interns at the Center and some friends of mine volunteered to put up flyers around town. Mokhiber went out and bought a bullhorn..... [At a Lennon memorial] I politely pushed my way toward [the fellow in charge]. I handed him one of the flyers and asked if at an appropriate time he would let the people around him know about the rally. He looked at the flyer. The cassette player was playing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." He said, No, you tell them. The song ended. He turned off the machine and said, "This guy has something he wants to say to you."
And so they had a rally. It was a time to emote, to express wrath, and burn off the anger they had built up over the event. It reminds me of nothing so much as a poem written by a bongo-beating fellow I once knew, who had become self-conscious of the uselessness of his "men's circle." The poem used language that built ever higher to describe the drumming circle and the fire it was laid around, with the sparks shooting up out of the fire and rising to heaven -- this last, as a symbol of the power of their emotional energy, rising to carry the light of their circle to the wider world.

'Yet though I did not say it,' I recall the poem ending, 'the sparks went out right over our heads.'

And so for Corn, who gave his one ever political speech:
The event--as far as such events go--was a success. There was media coverage. Those who had come felt they had done something with their grief and anger. And as almost always happens when a prominent act of gun violence occurs, the topic of handgun was again on the radar screen. Not because of our effort, but we had done our part. However, that moment--like all moments--quickly faded. It is now 25 years later. John Lennon is still dead. (And so is George Harrison.) The NRA years ago moved to a bigger and better headquarters in suburban Virginia. The gun lobby has had its ups and downs, but it's been mostly ups of late (such as the expiration of the ban on assault weapons). Lennon's death, it turns out, was no catalyst for action. And we have still--after all this time--not learned how to stem the tide of gun violence. Which is one of several reasons why this anniversary of Lennon's death is a sad day.
Corn is too harsh toward his society when he says we have not learned to stem the tide of gun violence. Murder rates are at an historic low. Violent crime rates, in fact, are. It wasn't protests that brought us to this boon, however: it was a combination of harsher prison sentences for the violent, an improving economy, and the spreading of the concealed carry of firearms across the United States, which results according to most evidence in a sharp decline in crime rates -- indeed, even the most hostile evidence says only that it doesn't worsen them. Of the three, the two political changes have both been NRA projects.

It is true what he says, when he says that these protests have done no good at all. Yet the NRA might be thanked. What good as has been done, has been done in part by them.

UPDATE: If I might be permitted a minor critique of PJM, I should like to note that the photo they run alongside the Corn piece, entitled "John Lennon, Handguns, and Me," would appear to be a collection of .30-06 rifle cartridges. These are not fired in any handgun, and indeed offer somewhat stiff recoil even in a rifle. It's a minor point, but given that the blogs have so often critiqued the MSM for its outright ignorance on these very matters, do try to get it right.

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