Stephen King’s New Essay “Guns” Calls for Common Sense in Gun Control Debate

Can the King of Horror solve America's handgun stalemate?

Almost as difficult to believe as the fact that there’s a (thankfully waning) “Sandy Hook truthers” movement is that, in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, there’s any resistance at all to some common sense regulation on, y’know, the kinds of guns that can turn an elementary school into a hellish, blood-soaked nightmare.

But this is America, where a very vocal subset of the population clings to the idea that the only thing standing between our hard-won freedoms and totalitarian, despotic dictatorship is a small personal arsenal.

Never mind that the real powers that be have developed much more subtle, manipulative and profitable means of getting the American public to do their bidding.

Or that despotism would never fly in the US of A. There’s just no money in it.

Regardless, so entrenched and intractable is the gun crowd, that even in the wake of Aurora and Sandy Hook, those who would advocate for tightened controls on high-capacity assault rifles begin their endeavor with a sort of hang-dog inevitability.

Cue the chorus: We should enforce the laws we already have … Your proposals won’t fix the problem … Your proposals didn’t work last time … you’re infringing on the rights of millions who’ve never broken the law … guns save more people than they kill …

This weekend, Stephen King, one of America’s most prominent liberal gun owners and perhaps its most beloved novelist, took to the Kindle Singles platform to release an essay titled, simply, “Guns.” It’ll cost you a buck and it’s money well spent to delve into King’s obviously torn and tormented, but ultimately beautifully and passionately delivered, thoughts on the state of America’s gun culture.

Yes, as you might imagine, King’s in favor of stricter gun control, specifically with regard to semi-automatic weapons, which, he reasons, 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.”

King dispels the popular NRA trope of America’s “culture of violence,” positing rather that America’s is a “culture of Kardashian.” We love reality television, detective shows, superhero movies, Madden, Super Mario, mommy porn and a whole lot of football.

“The assertion that Americans love violence and bathe in it daily is a self-serving lie promulgated by fundamentalist religious types and America’s propaganda-savvy gun pimps,” he figures. “It’s believed by people who don’t read novels, play video games or go to many movies.”

King trots out some stats (that gun murders in Australia decreased 60 percent following stricter regulations in the wake of a spree killing) and counters the popular self-defense anecdotes with some anecdotes of his own:

• The woman who mistook her boyfriend for a home invader and shot him in the stomach (he died); the father who mistook his son for a burglar and shot him in the head (he died); the wife who mistook her husband for a burglar and shot him (he died).

• There’s Herbert Clutter who, in 1959, had his home invaded and never even got a chance to use the two guns he kept on hand.

“How many guns does it take to make you feel safe?” asks King “And how do you simultaneously keep them loaded and close at hand, but still out of reach of your inquisitive children or grandchildren?”

While King’s arguments are compelling, perhaps his most salient point is a personal one. Rage, his first novel written when he was in high school and published under his pseudonym Richard Bachman, focuses on a disturbed teenager who brings a gun to school, kills his algebra teacher and holds his classmates hostage to avenge an earlier indignity. After Rage was cited by several real life high-school gun toters and shooters, King decided to pull the book from print. Protected by the First Amendment, he explains that he “pulled it because in my judgment it might be hurting people, and that made it the responsible thing to do.” He calls on the pro-gun forces to have a similar moment of clarity, to accept certain limitations because it’s sensible, not because it’s mandated.

But, alas, the stark split between 5-star and 1-star reviews (like American politics, there’s very little activity in the center) suggests, sadly, that sense may never have anything to do with this. Though you can’t fault him for trying.