People line up to commemorate John Lennon in Central Park in New York after his death in 1980.
Photo by AGIP/RDA/Getty

John Lennon’s death 35 years ago also sparked a gun control debate

Tuesday marks the 35th anniversary of when rock music legend and peace icon John Lennon was shot and killed as he entered his New York City apartment with his wife Yoko Ono.

The loss of the beloved 40-year-old member of The Beatles provoked a debate over gun violence that is eerily similar to the current national conversation sparked by a shooting massacre last week in San Bernadino, California.

Lennon’s death in 1980 renewed interest in stricter gun control laws. “John Lennon’s death appears to have done more to center attention on handguns than any recent event,” reported the Washington Post at the time. Still, the notion of reform was rejected by then-President-elect Ronald Reagan. Ironically, the following year a shooting attempt on Reagan’s life would spur the gun control movement once again, although game-changing legislation has largely alluded advocates in the decades since.

His killer, Mark David Chapman, surrendered to police at the scene and is currently still imprisoned for the murder. He later said he killed the musician in order to become famous, but also had previously alleged other motivations, including anger over a quote attributed to Lennon in the ’60s, which some have interpreted as disparaging to Christianity. In a 1992 interview, Chapman’s wife, Gloria, told Barbara Walters, “He was sick in every way.” 

Meanwhile, his tragic killing inspired thousands of mourners to flock to the site of his death. His life would forever be memorialized by Strawberry Fields in Central Park, where a mosaic spelling out “Imagine,” the title of Lennon’s classic song, attracts tourists and fans to this day. 

On Tuesday morning, Ono tweeted an update on a post she shared two years ago featuring Lennon’s blood-smeared glasses from the night of his murder with a view of Central Park in the background: “Over 1,100,000 people have been killed by guns in the U.S.A. since John Lennon was shot and killed on December 8, 1980.”

Ono includes the hashtag #StopGunViolence. She previously featured the stark image on the cover of her acclaimed album “Seasons of Glass,” which was released in the year following Lennon’s death.

She told The New York Times in 2013 when she first posted the image that she was moved to do so by the tragic massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. “This is what I can do and I did it. It was painful for me but I did it,” she said at the time.

Gun Violence, Music and Pop Culture

John Lennon's death 35 years ago also sparked a gun control debate