Stephen King has never shied away from politics. His college column, King’s Garbage Truck, mostly dealt with pop culture, but also tackled heady subjects like anti-war rallies and abortion. In 1970’s “A Possible Fairy Tale,” he outlined a 10-day plan for ending the conflict in Viet Nam. His 1984 article, “Why I Am For Gary Hart,” King stated boldly, “Ronald Reagan is a bad president and must be turned out of office.” Allegorically, King has tackled political matters again and again, most notably in The Tommyknockers’ concerns about nuclear power and Under the Dome’s barely sub-textual treatise against George W. Bush.
Which is why his new essay, “Guns,” is a little surprising. Released as a Kindle Single via his own publishing house, Philtrum Press, “Guns” absolutely touches on politics. Just past the illustration of the half-mast American flag on the cover, there’s discussion of Red States and Blue States, of “kumbayah socialists of the left and Tea Partiers of the right,” and – most provocatively – President Obama’s recent major initiatives designed to control gun access. What King does best, though, isn’t political. While it would be impossible to write a think-piece on gun control and completely avoid politics, “Guns” is about people, living and dead, not statements.
King has cause for concern. In the brutal second section of “Guns,” King discusses his novel Rage, again bringing up the book’s potential as an accelerant toward violence. While he does not apologize for writing Rage (nor has he ever, despite statements to the contrary), he accepts some culpability for it. In a voice hovering between shocked and dismayed, King details the stories of the murderers who were later discovered with a copy of Rage. While he urges us to understand them, “that doesn’t mean we excuse them, or give them blueprints to express their hate and fear.”
Not that the blueprints are everywhere. King being King, he steps up to defend American pop culture, and the accusation that America is fostering a culture of violence. Statistically speaking, he says, America is more interested in Mario Brothers than first-person shooters, “mommy-porn” than amoral spree-killer fiction, and The Avengers’ superheroics than gun-horny shoot-em-ups. He also returns to “A Possible Fairy Tale”’s what-if scenario, imagining an America in which screaming hyperbole evolves into rational discourse. Unsurprisingly to readers of King’s fiction, the man is an eternal optimist.
Perhaps the most intriguing section is the essay’s first, “The Shake,” which details media response to a mass shooting. It’s fascinating to watch King rattle off facts amid chaos, a technique he used to great effect when describing the moments and days following his near-fatal car accident in 2000’s On Writing. In King’s short story, “That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is In French,” King posits that “hell is repetition.” That ethos is alive here, as well. His tone disaffected, numb, King explains, “That’s how it shakes out,” without raising his voice or making grand proclamations.
“Guns” is a smart, important essay that works hard at using common sense as a tool for discussion. He doesn’t vilify gun owners – somewhat surprisingly, he is one – and he doesn’t believe in quick, token solutions. He posits questions and attempts answers. He talks with not down, and his charming, folky voice is compelling, even under these dire circumstances. And shares statistics – and Bill Clinton’s quote that it’s not opinion, it’s arithmetic – perhaps none more damning than the one in his final sentence: “About eighty people die of gunshot wounds in America every day.”
- - -
“Guns” is Stephen King’s first non-fiction piece released as a Kindle Single. It is available on Amazon.com for $0.99; those without Kindles can download apps for computers, Macs, phones and tablets. Profits from “Guns” will benefit victims of gun violence.
Kevin Quigley is a FEARnet columnist and author whose website, CharnelHouseSK.com is one of the world’s leading online resources for Stephen King news and information. Quigley’s books on King – including Chart of Darkness, Drawn Into Darkness, Wetware, and Blood Your Ears – are available from CemeteryDance.com, as are his fiction collections, This Terrestrial Hell and Surf’s Up. His first novel, I’m On Fire, is upcoming.