This morning, Stephen King published an essay as an Amazon.com 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.