Stephen King releases gun control essay

January 25, 2013

Best-selling author Stephen King has just released a passionate call for greater gun control, titled “Guns.” In a coup for Amazon, the essay is available only through its Kindle Store for 99 cents.


King begins with a bitter recitation of the way school shootings are commonly reported in the news and the way politicians and lobbyists respond without, ultimately, disturbing the status quo. His list ends:


“21. Any bills to change existing gun laws, including those that make it possible for almost anyone in America to purchase a high-capacity assault weapon, quietly disappear into the legislative swamp.

“22. It happens again and the whole thing starts over.”

Determined and at times profane, the 8,000-word essay confronts NRA members straight on: “In the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings,” King writes, “gun advocates have to ask themselves if their zeal to protect even the outer limits of gun ownership have anything to do with preserving the Second Amendment as a whole, or if it’s just a stubborn desire to hold onto what they have, and to hell with the collateral damage.”

“I have nothing against gun owners, sport shooters, or hunters,” King writes, but “how many have to die before we will give up these dangerous toys? Do the murders have to be in the mall where you shop? In your own neighborhood? In your own family?”

In the most personal section of his essay, King considers the current debate about the effect of violent media on young men. In the 1970s, he published a novel called “Rage” under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. It told the story of a high school kid who takes a gun to school, shoots his Algebra teacher and holds a class hostage. “Rage” sold only a few thousand copies, but starting in the late 1980s, King began to hear about teenage boys who were inspired by the book to commit similar crimes in their own schools. He does not think that his novel “caused” these young men to kill, but he says, “I saw ‘Rage’ as a possible accelerant.” In response, he demanded that his publisher pull the book from publication.

He concludes with what he calls “a trio of reasonable measures to curb gun violence”:

1. Comprehensive and universal background checks.

2. Ban the sale of clips and magazines containing more than ten rounds.

3. Ban the sale of assault weapons such as the Bushmaster and the AR-15.

As one of the most popular authors in the world, King is immediately a powerful new presence in the gun control debate. But he repeatedly emphasizes the need for all sides to work together. Acknowledging the political difficulty of getting new restrictions passed, he notes that meaningful change will only happen “if gun advocates get behind it.”

Amazon’s Kindle Single platform is part of a dramatic shift in the publishing industry that allows authors to respond to current events quickly and in a longer form than most magazines and newspaper op-ed sections can accommodate. David Blum, an Amazon editor, said, “King finished this essay last Friday morning, and by that night we had accepted it and scheduled for publication today.”

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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