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Friday, January 25, 2013

Stephen King on Gun Violence

Posted by on Fri, Jan 25, 2013 at 3:17 PM

This morning, Stephen King published an essay as an Kindle Single for 99 cents. Titled "Guns," the essay is a quick and emotional response to the shootings in Newtown and the gun control debate. Say what you will about Stephen King, but the man is certainly a communicator: His prose is always clear and highly readable. The opening chapter, a numbered list laying out the media's response to gun violence, is a viscerally engaged piece of writing that illustrates the nauseating familiarity we feel when a shooting spree occurs:

Tenth, the shooter is identified correctly, and we get to look at a yearbook photo in which the guy looks pretty much like anybody. The search is already under way for a photo where he will look like your worst nightmare.

The most powerful part of the essay comes right after, when King explains his personal history with school shootings. When he was a teenager, he wrote a novel about a young man who comes to his high school with a gun and takes his class hostage. This novel, later published under King's pseudonym Richard Bachman under the title Rage, inspired several copycat crimes around the country. King lists these hostage situations, one after the other, explaining that while the police were putting together evidence, a copy of Rage was found in the student's locker, or the student quoted from Rage while they were holding their class hostage. King removed the book from publication, but he refuses to apologize for it, ("No sir, no ma'am, I never did and never would") claiming that the young men who copied Rage were damaged goods just looking for an outlet; if Rage never existed, they would have used some other model for their sprees. The confessional tone of this chapter feels urgent and honest, and it explains why King would feel the need to speak up about gun control now.

Unfortunately, "Guns" goes downhill from there. King tries to position himself as a Good Old Fashioned American Centrist, full of Common Sense Solutions. He rails against the sorry state of political discourse—always an easy target—and he complains about left wing and right wing media. This portion of the essay results in unfortunate lines like this: "The idea that America exists in a culture of violence is bullshit. What America exists in is a culture of Kardashian." And then he goes on to basically support all of President Obama's gun control proposals. Which: Great! I don't know if Obama needed the endorsement, but I'm sure it's not unwelcome.

Anyway, it occurs to me that I'm probably not in the target audience for this essay. "Guns" is directed toward the Stephen King fan who probably doesn't spend a whole lot of time thinking about political stuff. It's a mass market essay intended for the broad American audience, which is to say: Stephen King's people. And in that respect, it probably works. Maybe you should gift "Guns" to the King fans in your life, those people you've silenced on Facebook for one reason or another. Those are the people it's meant for, and those are the people it'll probably manage to sway.


Comments (11) RSS

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Unlike SOME respondent's to King's essay, I've actually READ it, and I've read some by other authors, most notably one published by Harry Harrison, and in contrasting the two essays I find Mr. King's words far easier to stomach (though I did not agree with everything he had to say¹). Harrison's publication on this topic was not so much an essay as it was a diatribe almost completely devoid of rational thought, and what he had to say was so IGNORANT, I am sure he was never trained in the use and care of firearms…let alone ever OWNED a firearm (two distinctly separate groups where members of group one are not necessarily members of group two…and then there are group two members who've never benefited from proper training and professional experience!). It's not clear two me whether or not King, as a member of group two (gun owners), is also a member of group one (trained and experienced in the use of firearms), but my own personal experience combined with my educated interpretation of his words strongly suggests he's a Group Two kinda guy, and they are (or more accurately, CAN be) a dangerous collection of individuals; just as people have to get drivers licenses in order to lawfully operate motor vehicles on public streets and highways, people should be educated and certified before they should be permitted to own and exercise the choice of whether or not to use firearms, and for exactly the same reasons: With power comes responsibility, and responsibility must be proven to be validated. ¹King asserts that semiautomatic weapons have only two purposes: "One is so owners can take them to the shooting range once in awhile, yell yeehaw, and get all horny at the rapid fire and the burning vapor spurting from the end of the barrel. Their other use — their only other use — is to kill people." I'm not sure what Stephen King understands what a semiautomatic weapon is, which leads me to believe he never received the required education, training, and experience to authoritatively comment on said weapons and all related matters. I am so qualified. The state of automation of a firearm is in reference to the trigger mechanism, and there are three states: The first requires that the sequence of the operation of the trigger mechanism be fully actuated by the user for each round that is fired, like in most revolvers and single-shot rifles and shotguns. The second, semiautomatics, some of the operation of the trigger mechanism (hence "semi") allows the user to fire succeeding rounds as fast as he can pull the trigger after fully cocking the weapon ONCE per magazine, a fine example being the standard M1911-A1 pistol. The third, full autos, allow the user to discharge rounds as long as the trigger is DEPRESSED and the magazine is full. King's published comment on the purpose of semiautomatics seems to be very flawed, as there is little practical difference between the two types of non-automatic weapons [in the context of King's comments]. King's comments, in my inarguably qualified opinion, seem to be directed at either semiautomatic weapons converted to fully automatic fire mode or weapons possessing multiple fire modes, one of which is fully automatic. You CANNOT use (referencing King's "guns" essay) a semiautomatic M1911-A1 Colt .45 with a ten-round magazine AS A WEAPON OF MASS DESTRUCTION! (It would be as impossible to use an eight-shot revolver with quick-change reload cylinders in that fashion, a ridiculous concept at best.) Any proposed legislation based on comments like that WOULD be dangerous in and of itself, a threat to constitutional rights of ALL Americans. [Humorous closing comment] I propose that, just as vehicle operators are and gun owners should be licensed, the politicians legislating firearms should be similarly qualified; the sad fact of the matter is that politicians implementing gun control legislation don't know diddly-squat, have not been trained and educated in the use and care of the very weapons…so are you going to allow someone THAT ignorant to say what you can and cannot do with your own guns?
Posted by gremlinkurst on February 16, 2013 at 3:41 PM · Report this
Here's my essay in response to Stephen King's essay, Guns. Unlike his emotional knee-jerk reaction to the recent tragedies mine is well researched and thought out.
Posted by Rick Carufel on January 28, 2013 at 4:24 PM · Report this
When I try and talk about guns and people tell me I'm not a liberal, or that I'm getting paid to post, I get worried too. The door swings both ways, friends.
Posted by NancyBalls on January 25, 2013 at 11:29 PM · Report this
watchout5 8
"sorry state of political discourse"

When I try and talk about guns and they bring up spoilers on cars or their constructional right to own RPG's I get quite worried. I see where he's coming from.
Posted by watchout5 on January 25, 2013 at 8:59 PM · Report this
MattBriggs 7
The immediacy of release via ebook is probably what King was after. As you probably know he was one of the first "brand name" authors to really make a stab at ebook publication. I like the idea of ebooks being used for pamphlets (John Milton style or Thomas Paine), manifestos, and screeds. It strikes me as vastly more direct medium than an op ed and doesn't carry the association with a newspaper.
Posted by MattBriggs on January 25, 2013 at 8:55 PM · Report this
pg13 6
"A numbered list laying out the media's response to gun violence"

...will always remind me of Charlie Brooker's 2009 Newswipe report...
Posted by pg13 on January 25, 2013 at 5:03 PM · Report this
rob! 5
(Makes me wonder if King isn't a bit like the "ethical pedophiles" who understand their obsessions all too well, and are fortunately able to refrain from acting upon them. Not really interested in paying $0.99 to find out; if King weren't in it for the money he certainly could have gotten it wide circulation as an op-ed.)
Posted by rob! on January 25, 2013 at 4:42 PM · Report this
rob! 4
Looking for my copy of Stephen King's 1982 Different Seasons. The novella Apt Pupil contained therein gets inside the head of a homicidal high-schooler who is sexually excited by his actions.
Posted by rob! on January 25, 2013 at 4:38 PM · Report this
biffp 3
This is a good quote though, "to claim that America’s 'culture of violence' is responsible for school shootings is tantamount to cigarette company executives declaring that environmental pollution is the chief cause of cancer."
Posted by biffp on January 25, 2013 at 3:38 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 2
Stephen King's Tom Hank-ish, Jay Leno-ish bland everyman middle-of-the-road centrist pablum always kind of made me want to go all Bobcat Goldthwait. Good thing I don't read that shit any more. It is weird, the more castrated a man is, the more he thinks he's a potent force for something. I'm saying that turning into a pussy can fool you into thinking you turned into a pragmatist. Not by a long shot.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on January 25, 2013 at 3:37 PM · Report this
I loved King's Gunslinger series. I wish he had written this from the perspective of Roland of Gilead.
Posted by wxPDX on January 25, 2013 at 3:30 PM · Report this

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