From Steve Israel, the congressman-turned-novelist who writes “in the full-tilt style of Carl Hiaasen” (The Washington Post), comes a comic tale about the mighty firearm industry, a small Long Island town, and Washington politics.
When Chicago’s Mayor Michael Rodriguez starts a national campaign to ban handguns from America’s cities, towns, and villages, Otis Cogsworth, the wealthy chairman and CEO of Cogsworth International Arms worries about the effects on his company. In response he and lobbyist Sunny McCarthy convince an Arkansas congressman to introduce federal legislation mandating that every American must own a firearm. Events soon escalate.
Asabogue’s Mayor Lois Leibowitz passes an ordinance to ban guns in the town—right in Otis Cogsworth’s backyard. Otis retaliates by orchestrating a recall election against Lois and Jack Steele, a rich town resident, runs against her. Even though the election is for the mayor of a village on Long Island, Steele brings in the big guns of American politics to defeat Lois: political consultants, Super PACs, and celebrities. Soon, thousands of pro-gun and anti-gun partisans descend on Asabogue, along with an assortment of heavily armed rightwing militias and the national news media. Bucolic Asabogue becomes a tinderbox. Meanwhile, Washington politicians in both parties are caught between a mighty gun lobby whose support they need for reelection and the absurdity of requiring that every American with waivers for children under age four carry a gun. What ensues is a discomfiting, hilarious indictment of the state of American politics.
Former Long Island Congressman, Steve Israel has firsthand knowledge of the cynicism and corruption at the heart of our political system. Big Guns will make you laugh, will make you angry, and will make you think as you flip the pages faster and faster to find out what happens next.
On the glittering East End of Long Island, hidden between the jewels of Southampton and East Hampton, sat the little village of Asabogue.
You could easily drive through Asabogue and not even know you’d been there. The only indications of the village were Main Street, narrow and tree-lined, with flower boxes, an ice cream shop, a bakery, a café, and a few tiny boutiques that sold beach house paraphernalia and trinkets. There was also a triangular plot of grass on which sat Village Hall, a white clapboard house, constructed in the early eighteenth century, that creaked and groaned and drooped from age.
Even if you knew you were in Asabogue, you wouldn’t know who else was there, and that was the point of the place. When East Hampton became passé, when Southampton became too common, the next and final step had been to head for the hills, and in this case, the hills were Billionaires Bluff. Here, several dozen summer residents of Asabogue could look down their noses at the rest of the Hamptons and, for that matter, at the entire Atlantic, which rolled placidly against their beaches, the only intrusion of the outside world on their lives by the rest of the planet. Whenever someone accidentally wandered onto the beach, it would only be a minute before a goon from a private security firm swooped down and redirected the interloper back to where he belonged—which was anyplace but Asabogue.
The joke was that Asabogue was an Indian phrase meaning “place of many assholes.” The people of Asabogue weren’t big fans of that translation.
• • •
On a glorious June morning on Billionaires Bluff, Otis Cogsworth, chairman and CEO of Cogsworth International Arms, awoke to what he thought would be another fine day.
His eyes opened upon the immense master bedroom of Trigger Happy, his summer encampment in Asabogue. He could feel a salty ocean breeze drifting through an open window, and hear seagulls squawking over the sound of softly rolling waves. He sucked in a breath and held it. Sometimes—rarely, but sometimes—Otis experienced flickering acknowledgments of what a good and enviable life he had. He was an immeasurably successful businessman. His work was something he believed in. He had a steady marriage with a loyal and loving, if boring, wife, and he had, among others, this beautiful home on the most expensive street in the greatest country on earth. This was one of those mornings when, for a few waking seconds, he took stock of his triumphs and said to himself, It is good.
Then he fumbled for the remote control on the bedside table, pressed a button, and proceeded to ruin his day before it began. From the large television above the marble fireplace, Otis heard scraps of a news broadcast: “. . . epidemic of violence . . . Chicago overnight . . . six separate gunfights . . . seventeen fatalities . . . death toll here to over three thousand . . . Rodriguez demanding a federal ban on handguns.”
On the screen, in what must have been a press conference from the previous night, the pugilistic mayor of Chicago was barking, as if, Otis thought, he were about to take a bite out of someone’s thigh. He was standing in front of a children’s playground, now festooned with yellow crime scene tape, which some journalists had grimly taken to calling the new flag of Chicago. A kaleidoscope of police lights swirled behind him, and uniformed cops stood at his side.
“Look,” Rodriguez said to a bouquet of microphones, “our city has the strictest gun laws in America, but without federal laws, it doesn’t mean shi—squat!” He held up a black semiautomatic pistol. “The police found this on the playground behind me after last night’s shooting. It was manufactured by Cogsworth International Arms and sold by one of their distributors. My city has banned this weapon. But it came in from another city that doesn’t give a fu—a damn. Enough! I’ve had it with the gun lobby. I’ve had it with death merchants like Cogsworth International Arms. I’ve had it with fuh—freaking guns! It’s time to ban them! Ban them all!”
Behind him a crowd started cheering: “Ban! Them! All! Ban! Them! All!”
Otis mumbled at the television in a low, gravelly slur.
“Otis?” his wife murmured, next to him.
“Go back to sleep, Lucille. I’m taking breakfast in the solarium.”
“Okay,” she murmured. “Remember we have brunch at the Steeles’ later.”
Of course we do, thought Otis. As if today won’t be bad enough. He needed to deal with the crisis in Chicago, not schmooze his way through another Asabogue charity affair. Especially with Jack Steele, that awful B-list actor from those hideous movies. Jack Steele. Living just down the street. (“Down the street” on Billionaires Bluff meant several beaches away.)
Otis wrapped himself in a cotton bathrobe and shuffled out into the hallway and down the dark main stairway, passing under family portraits mounted on the mahogany walls. Every painting, across generations, captured the Cogsworth genes: heavy jowls that dropped over shirt collars, thin lips that seemed to sneer even though their intent was clearly to smile, and black, skeptical eyes set deep in ruddy faces, as if some strain of Cogsworth evolution had slowly buried the eyes deep enough for them to watch you without you watching them. All these traits had been passed on to Otis, and yet the portraits made him uncomfortable. They passed judgment on him with every step. They haunted him.
There had been great worry about Otis as a child. He was the only son of Charles and Eleanor Cogsworth, and, in his earliest years, he seemed uninterested in firearms manufacturing, which had been the family business since before the Civil War (when the family had made an acceptable profit by managing to sell to both sides). Young Otis had stared blankly at the guns he unwrapped on Christmas and birthdays. He’d seemed ambivalent when Charles would take him shooting on the estate in Connecticut. He’d spend an inordinate amount of time in his room, reading books and painting the view of the Long Island Sound from his third-floor window. But there eventually had come a day when Charles summoned Otis to the family library. He was going to have a heart-to-heart minus one heart.
Animal trophies peered sadly at Otis as he entered. Floor-to-ceiling shelves were crammed with books on hunting and hiking and sportsmanship and nature and many other subjects that bored him. A heavy cloud of cigar smoke had fouled the air, stinging his eyes.
Charles directed Otis to sit opposite him and said, “I don’t know why, but the good Lord only gave me one son, and you happen to be it, which means the future of our company and the Cogsworth name will depend on you and you alone. The company has prospered since your great-great-grandfather Adolphus Cogsworth started it, from one generation to the next, and one day it shall fall to you.”
Otis blinked, said nothing.
“Honestly, if your sisters weren’t girls, I’d feel much better about them taking over, but we must play the hand that God gave us in His infinite mystery. So, Otis, all this will be yours, and you had better not fail.”
Otis was six when this happened.
The solarium looked out onto the reflecting pool, which looked out onto the Atlantic, a placid blue void this morning. In the middle of the pool, a dozen brass dolphins spit bullet-sized water pellets from their smiling mouths. The Cogsworths’ household assistant, Andre, had already set up a coffee service and tuned the television to CNBC.
Otis sipped his coffee and turned up the volume. On the screen, two pundits sat at a table. Empty, talking heads, he thought. One of the analysts, bearded and bespectacled, looked like he taught Econ 101 at a community college. The other was a CEO who was most famous for running six companies into the ground before becoming a cable news pundit who specialized in talking about how to grow a business.
The Cogsworth International logo flashed on a screen behind the men, stopping Otis in mid-sip.
The professor said, “My sources tell me the Department of Justice is considering an investigation because at least eight hundred semiautomatic pistols traced to crimes in Chicago have been manufactured by Cogsworth International Arms and sold by its distributors.”
The CEO nodded knowingly. “Today could be a bumpy ride for Cogsworth stocks. We’ll keep our eyes on it.”
There were some phrases Otis preferred not to hear while sipping his morning coffee, and certainly not on national television. Those phrases included, but were not limited to, “Department of Justice,” “investigation,” “bumpy ride,” and “Cogsworth stocks.”
He pulled a phone toward him and punched in a number. After a few rings he heard an inappropriately cheerful “Helloooo” from his nephew, Bruce Cogsworth Davies.
“Conference call in an hour,” Otis said brusquely. “You, me, and Sunny McCarthy.”
Congressman Steve Israel was the former United States Representative for New York’s third congressional district, serving in the United States Congress from 2001 to 2017. Born and raised in Brooklyn and on Long Island, Israel graduated from George Washington University. He is the author of the novels The Global War on Morris and Big Guns.
“This book delivers what America needs now more than ever—a good laugh at ourselves. Big Guns is a satire about the gun lobby, political corruption, and Washington power, but it is more than the sum of its parts; it’s a serious indictment of America, told by a man who has spent sixteen years in Congress and knows of what he writes. Steve Israel is not only a fine writer; he is perhaps the finest, funniest, and best political satirist writing today. You don’t need to completely agree with him (I don’t) but you need to hear what he has to say. Congress should pass a law making Big Guns mandatory reading for themselves."—Nelson DeMille
“Former Congressman Steve Israel, the only funny thing to come out of Washington in a long, long time, hits the bulls-eye. Hilarious and ingenious—and pleasingly wicked.”—Christopher Buckley
“Honestly? It irritates me that Steve is such a terrific writer. To have his political insight and wisdom, and then, on top of that, have the skill to spin it into something so uniquely his own, with comedic timing so crisp, rhythmic and musical—and funny!—seems, frankly, unfair. Big Guns is a great, and timely, read.”—Paul Reiser
“Big Guns is a knowing, witty, dark look at the madness that has overtaken American politics. A former Congressman, Steve Israel knows his subject. One of the most gifted acrobats has left the circus, picked up a laptop and blown the cover off the big top. Defying gravity, he somehow makes us laugh at the outrages and absurdities of Congress, campaigns, and the media.”—Paul Begala
"Wow! Another great book from Steve Israel, this time a timely satire about a very serious subject. Something's got to get us to change. Maybe this will."—Ken Burns
“New York congressman-turned-novelist Israel delivers a second brilliant political satire…this time targeting the firearms industry and the Washington political establishment…Promise readers that the only way they will put this book down is when Charlton Heston’s ghost pries it from their cold dead hands.”—Booklist, Starred Review
“An entertaining satire…Israel recalls Carl Hiaasen and Christopher Buckley in their liberal bents and sense of the perniciously absurd.”—Kirkus, Starred Review
“Wonderfully irreverent. ... This clever political farce exposes the extremism of the gun rights issue, both pro and con, with a smart plot, loud, noisy characters, and hilarious dialogue. ... Israel [nails] the D.C. scene and national political hubris perfectly: empty suits with heads to match. It’s a rollicking comedic trip.” —Publishers Weekly