35 years after John Lennon's death, Yoko Ono weighs in on gun violence

More than 1.1 million Americans have been killed by guns in the US since John Lennon was fatally shot on Dec. 8, 1980, Yoko Ono tweeted Tuesday. How has gun violence changed since her husband's death? 

Lyndon Fox/AP
In this Dec. 9, 1980, file photo, Yoko Ono and record producer David Geffen leave Roosevelt Hospital in New York after the death of her husband, John Lennon. Thirty-five years ago, Mark David Chapman shot and killed Lennon, a former Beatles member.

On this day 35 years ago, John Lennon was shot four times in the back as he was returning to his Upper West Side home, his wife Yoko Ono just steps in front of him. The gunman, 25-year-old Mark David Chapman, had bought the .38 caliber revolver in Honolulu, where only a driver’s license was needed for the transaction.

Ms. Ono, in commemorating her husband’s death, took to Twitter Tuesday to address the gun violence epidemic. “Over 1,100,000 people killed by guns in the USA since John Lennon was shot and killed on Dec 8 1980,” she wrote. The message is accompanied by a photo of the late musician’s blood-splattered glasses.

A political activist since the 1960s, Ono has long dedicated her art, music, and philanthropy towards causes such as peace and human rights. For their honeymoon, she and Lennon famously held “bed-ins” in protest of the Vietnam War. After her husband was shot, she told The New York Times, she wanted to express her support for gun regulation, but was advised otherwise out of concerns for her safety.

But in the past 15 years, Ono has used the same image of Lennon’s bloodied spectacles, placed in front of a hazy New York skyline, to protest gun violence. Following the Columbine massacre in 1999, she promoted the image on two billboards she rented in New York and Los Angeles. And in 2013, she tweeted it out four times to her 3.7 million followers. One was retweeted by President Obama’s account.

According to data from the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rolling Stone reports, some 1.15 million people have died from gunshots in the US since Lennon died. And since 1968, the year “The White Album” was released, more Americans have been killed by gun violence than in all American wars throughout history.

Today in Honolulu, legally purchasing a firearm requires an application with the police department, fingerprinting, a mental health waiver, and a background check. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, enacted in 1993, set up a federal mandate of background checks for gun ownership. Between 1994 and 2012, 2.4 million applications were rejected. Still, according to the CDC, the annual number of gun homicides have remained steady at an average of 11,754, since the late 1990s, never varying more than 10 percent. On average, 88 people are killed by guns per day.

Following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, when 20 children and six adults were fatally shot, a comprehensive gun regulation bill was introduced in Congress. It proposed an expansion of the background check system and a ban on certain high-caliber rifles. But ultimately, the bill was defeated in the Senate, just six votes shy of passage.

Haunted by Newtown, Ono told The Times she knew she had to speak up. “Many children were shot,” she said. “This is what I can do and I did it. It was painful for me but I did it.”

Joining the efforts of former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg in his organization, Everytown For Gun Safety, she began using social media as a means to promote awareness about the gun epidemic.  

“Instead of just enjoying John’s beautiful songs, I wanted everyone to understand the reality of what happened to him,” she said.

According to the Stanford Mass Shootings in America project, a data aggregator that tracks non-gang related shootings that involve three or more victims, there have been 51 mass shootings in 2015 – more than three times higher than the average for the past decade.

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