Saturday, May 11, 2019

Guest Blogger LENNY KLEINFELD: That Time I Took My Rifle to the Airport


I’m at CrimeFest this weekend in Bristol, UK along with Cara, Caro, Zoë, Stan and Yrsa, and we’re having more fun than should be legally permissible.  I was thinking of how to convey a sense of all our good times to you who follow what we write, and considered posting photos; but with all the ones Cara is shooting (no pun intended) of the festivities it struck me as rude to scoop hers with mine.  So, I searched for another way to pass along a genuine feeling of the fun generated by this get together while exploring some serious topics.

Enter Lenny Kleinfeld, one of the absolutely funniest writers I know. I was lucky enough to convince Lenny to write a piece for MIE on the occasion of his latest novel, Shooting Lessons.  When I read it, I thought this is what Mark Twain would sound like if he wrote crime.

But don’t take take my word for it, The Austin Chronicle calls Shooting Lessons A damned good read. This latest Kleinfeld spectacle is no less a clever, culturally aware, and entertaining adventure than the first two tales about Bergman and Doonie. But the game’s been upped a bit here, too. As in, this latest one grabs you by the shirtfront and drags you through its dark and increasingly blood-spattered shenanigans like something engineered for max adrenaline and engagement.”

Lenny’s first novel, Shooters and Chasers, was called “A spellbinding debut” by Kirkus Reviews.  His second novel, Some Dead Genius, was one of National Public Radio’s Great Reads of 2014, and named Thriller of the Month by e‑ Back before Lenny was spellbinding, he was a playwright in Chicago and a columnist for Chicago magazine. His fiction, articles, humor and reviews have appeared in Playboy, Galaxy, Oui, The Reader, Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, and Los Angeles Times. According to a reliable rumor he also spent fifteen years writing screenplays.

So, here’s Lenny…

I might be on the wrong blog site. My new novel, Shooting Lessons, tracks a deranged multimedia lobbying campaign to make an Illinois concealed carry permit as easy to obtain as a grocery coupon. So maybe this post should be on Murder Is For Policy Wonks. But I'm not gonna Google MIFPW, because I'm afraid it might exist.

Besides, the story isn't about making legislation, it's about marketing guns. Which America is great at. A recent survey revealed 94% of the Earth's population believes the phrase on our dollar bill, E Pluribus Unum, is Dothraki for Guns R Us.

Hey, I have nothing against guns. I like guns. They were an everyday—literally every day—part of my childhood. My father wore a gun, and a significant percentage of the guys who came to our house for social events were packing. He and they were cops. I don't know if it's still the case, but back in the 1950s and 60s New York City police officers were required by law to carry their weapon whenever they left home, whether for work or not, while they were within city limits. There was always a holstered gun on Dad's belt or strapped to his ankle. Dad packed a piece at our synagogue during the High Holidays, and at Mass when Catholic friends were getting married or being mourned. And in restaurants. And when he and Mom danced together anyplace outside our living room. And when he saw my grade school production of The Pirates Of Penzance, and at parent-teacher conferences. And when he visited the doctor or dentist.  When we went to the beach he'd unload it and sneak the empty gun into my mother's purse before he went swimming. We had to go to Miami for the three of us to go swimming simultaneously.

I got my first rifle when I was twelve. Minutes later I became an Active Junior Member of the NRA. It came with a magazine, American Rifleman, featuring gun reviews and exhortations about firearm safety. The editors were deeply concerned about guns doing damage to people, but deeply unworried about Adlai Stevenson doing damage to guns.

In 1963 I made it onto on my high school rifle team. It worked like any other sport. We had home matches and away matches. To get to a match at a rival school we'd take the train. Imagine five teenage boys carrying rifle cases and a teacher carrying a locked bag full of ammunition boarding your packed subway car today.

In 1966 I took my rifle to college. I walked into the airline terminal carrying a rifle case, set it on the ticket counter, removed the rifle and, with the ticket agent watching, took the gun apart, removed the firing pin, showed the firing pin to the ticket agent and placed it in my shirt pocket, then put the neutered rifle back together and checked it through like any other piece of luggage. Nobody in line behind me said anything, or paid much attention. Imagine that today.

Now let's reverse the perspective. It's 1966 and you're peering into your futurescope. This is what you see:

Today, a growing number of states (but not Illinois, yet) issue handgun permits which automatically include the right to concealed carry.

Open carry of rifles and handguns is legal in many states—including in malls, hospitals, schools, theaters, houses of worship, bars, and on public transport.

Semi-automatic versions of assault rifles with high-capacity magazines have been used in mass slaughter after mass slaughter after mass slaughter—quick, can you tell me off the top of your head, in the US in 2018 were there more major tennis tournaments or mass shootings? But civilianized assault weapons remain legal and easily available.

Could you have imagined all that, way back in the famously turbulent 1960s?

We live in the best of times for writing cell phone apps, the worst of times for writing satire. Satire requires exaggeration. American politics in general and gun policy in particular have grown so extreme that trying to stay a step ahead of them is like challenging the Flash to a foot race.

Another little thought experiment:

If someone told you they were writing a story about a bill being introduced in a state legislature that would decriminalize the use of a firearm while inebriated, would you:
A) Assume the author was a satirist.
B) Assume the author was a journalist.
C) Be unable to decide.

—Lenny, in for Jeff


  1. B, and I'd assume the state was Texas. Who says Pavlov wasn't a social engineer?

  2. Sorry, forgot to add my name.

  3. Welcome back, Lenny. So nice to have you with us. I have your latest, which went immediately to the to top of my list, as any book of yours always will. I too grew up in a house with guns. Shotguns and hunting rifles. Yes, my father was a bird murderer. He once held a lifetime membership in the NRA. He cut up his card and sent it back as a resignation letter when they fought the banning of the “cop-killer” bullet. I can’t imagine what he would think of the USA Today.

  4. I could imagine what he might think, if only I knew how to curse in Italian.

  5. Screw you, Lenny! The copies of 'Shooting Lessons' and 'Some Dead Genius' you sent me a couple of weeks ago are the reason I'm going to likely miss the deadline for getting the manuscript for MY new novel to my editor on time. All the reading and the laughing off of my ass I've been doing since receiving said books has ruined my productivity. And now this article? I sat down to write and there you are again, stealing my focus and attention with your sardonic skills. You're an f-ing sadist. Which is why it pains me so to say that I wish you and your books the best.