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February 15, 2010

With a Little Help from our Friends

Over the years, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) has been blessed to receive charitable donations from the founder of The Fest for Beatles Fans. The Fest started in 1974, when Beatles fan Mark Lapidos decided that he wanted to organize an event to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of The Beatles’ arrival in America. He arranged a personal meeting with John Lennon and proposed a Beatles convention at New York’s Commodore Hotel. Lennon’s response? “I’m all for it,” he said. “I’m a Beatles Fan, too!” That fateful meeting led to “the original and longest running Beatles celebration.”

Over the past 35 years, Lapidos has held conventions in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Seattle, Orlando, Las Vegas and Boston. “The first generation—baby boomers—still attend,” Lapidos says, “but there is always a great amount of younger fans. With the release of the Remastered CDs and Beatles Rock Band, we are sure there will be another resurgence in their popularity.” Lapidos also operates the world’s largest Beatles mail-order catalogue.

The Beatles will be forever linked with the issue of gun violence because of the violent and untimely death of John Lennon. Lennon was shot and killed in front of his Manhattan apartment building on December 8, 1980, by a deranged fan, Mark David Chapman. Lennon was only 40 years old.

Chapman, like so many contemporary American mass shooters, was seriously mentally ill and never should have been allowed to purchase the Charter Arms .38 Special revolver he used to kill Lennon. Three years prior to the assassination, he had attempted suicide and was admitted to a psychiatric facility for clinical depression. Chapman had developed a series of obsessions and heard voices in his head. Despite this, he not only was able to purchase firearms, but also found employment as an armed security guard. Six psychiatrists/clinical psychologists were prepared to testify at Chapman’s murder trial that he was psychotic before he pled guilty.

This horrific tragedy drove Lapidos to support the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “John’s dear friend Harry Nilsson became a national spokesperson for gun control and CSGV and, at the same time, we started raising money and awareness for the cause.” The Fest for Beatles Fans also supports Yoko Ono’s Spirit Foundation, which was set up to further her and Lennon’s philanthropic initiatives. “We thought these two were the best way to remember John on the charity side,” Lapidos says.

Lapidos was joined in mourning the loss of Lennon by millions of people around the world. Lennon was not only a musical icon, but also a global spokesman for peace and nonviolence. He once said, “I think the only way to do it is Gandhi’s way. And that’s non-violent, passive, positive, or whatever he called it in those days.”

Regarding the famous “Bed-Ins” for peace in Amsterdam and Montreal that he conducted with wife Yoko Ono, Lennon recalled, “People said, ‘Well, what does this do for peace?’ We thought, ‘The other side has war on every day, not only on the news but on the old John Wayne movies and every damn movie you see: war, war, war, war, kill, kill, kill, kill.’ We said, ‘Let’s get some peace, peace, peace, peace on the headlines, just for a change!”

The song “Happiness is a Warm Gun” gave Lennon an outlet to tackle the issue of gun worship. “They were advertising guns and I thought it was so crazy that I made a song out of it,” he recalled. “[Beatles Producer] George Martin showed me the cover of a magazine that said ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun.’ I thought it was just a fantastic, insane thing to say. A warm gun means you’ve just shot something!”

Lennon’s loss continues to be felt to this day. 2009’s “The New York City Years” exhibition at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame featured a display with a picture of Lennon’s bloodied glasses, the paper bag his clothes were put in, and a placard that read, “More than 932,000 people have been killed in the U.S.A since John Lennon was shot and killed on December 8, 1980.”

The surviving Beatles refuse to relinquish their optimism, however. Paul McCartney, looking back on the Beatles’ years together, said, “I’m really glad that most of the songs dealt with love, peace, understanding. It’s all very ‘All You Need is Love’ or ‘Give Peace a Chance.’ There was a good spirit behind it all, which I’m very proud of.”

And we at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence are proud to be associated with that legacy through the generosity of Mark Lapidos and The Fest for Beatles Fans.

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