Steve Israel has the gun debate in his sights in new satire

Steve Israel has the gun debate in his sights in new satire
Former Congressman Steve Israel

Satires focusing on United States politics are hardly uncommon, but in the new book “Big Guns” that satire comes from a source inside the Beltway. Former Congressman Steve Israel recently published his second book and first since retiring from the U.S. House of Representatives early last year.

“In the 15 years I served in the House of Representatives, there were 52 mass shootings,” said Israel, who represented the 3rd Congressional District now occupied by Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove). “The most prevalent question I faced after each one was, when will Congress do something? The purpose of ‘Big Guns’ is to answer that question in the best way I know, through satire and snark, and from the inside.”

The novel tells the story of an effort to ban guns in every American city, town and village, a campaign led by Chicago Mayor Michael Rodriguez. He is opposed by Otis Cogsworth, the chairman and CEO of Cogsworth International Arms, who convinces an Arkansas congressman to introduce legislation that every American must own a firearm.

When the mayor of a small Long Island village attempts to ban guns, Cogsworth orchestrates a recall election against her, pitting her against action movie actor Jack Steele in an election that features consultants, super-PACs and celebrities.

Israel said that writing served as an escape from the pressures of Congress, and said it was something he had wanted to do growing up.

“When I grew up in Levittown, I had three dreams: I wanted to be in Congress, I wanted to write novels, and I wanted to play centerfield for the New York Mets,” he said. “Since I didn’t excel at baseball, I focused on the first two dreams.”

Israel’s first book was “The Global War on Morris,” which was published in 2015 while he was still in Congress. The novel tells the story of a mild-mannered Long Island man who mistakenly becomes the federal government’s public enemy No. 1.

“I found myself attending meetings with President [George W.] Bush and Vice President [Dick] Cheney and was an eyewitness to the decisions that were being made at the highest level,” he said. “I became concerned that some of those decisions could be excessive and could hurt innocent Americans. So instead of writing a dry policy book expressing my concerns, I wrote a satire.”

Israel said that his writing style is inspired primarily by American political satirist Christopher Buckley, along with Nelson DeMille, Mark Twain and “Catch-22” author Joseph Heller. On several occasions, he has spoken with Buckley, who has helped the former congressman break through writer’s block and encouraged Israel’s writing.

“I got an email from him once, which was better than getting a letter from the president of the United States,” Israel said. “The Washington Post compared my writing style to his, which is the deepest flattery I ever received.”

Reviews from his Congressional colleagues have been more mixed.

“Some, predictably, love it, and others who disagree with me on the issue don’t love it,” he said. “But I can tell you this: they all read it looking for their names.”

Israel recently returned from California, where he had already sold the movie rights for “Big Guns.” He said he hopes to see the work adapted for the big or small screen, but Israel himself is focused on the written word.

“I’m contemplating another satire, but there’s a debate going on in literary circles that in the current presidential administration, satire is hard to write because satire is a daily reality in Washington,” he said. “I’m going to wait and see how ‘Big Guns’ performs and then make some decisions with the next project.”

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