Stephen King did something strange on Friday. He crept into the Kindle Store, and released a new exclusive that he’d just finished writing. But it wasn’t a horror novel, or even a scary short story. Instead, it was a personal essay about something dangerous in the real world. Stephen King released a Kindle Single called Guns.
It’s a surprisingly good read, trying to offer the same understanding of our universal fears that have characterized his novels. Using taut prose, he describes how the media reacts to the horrors of a shooting. (“Few of the trigger-pullers are middle-aged, and practically none are old. Some are young men; many are just boys. The Jonesboro, Arkansas, school shooters were 13 and 11…”) According to a British newspaper, he’d just finished writing the essay less than 10 days ago. “Once I finished writing Guns I wanted it published quickly,” King announced in a statement on Friday, “and Kindle Singles provided an excellent fit.”
Amazon was delighted. (“It’s exciting to offer a way for a brilliant writer like King to publish quickly,” Amazon added in the same press release, “and to reach a large audience of loyal readers and new customers.”) David Blum, editor of Kindle Singles, said that they’d agreed to publish King’s essay within hours of receiving it. “By that night we had accepted it and scheduled for publication…”
It’s already become the #1 best-seller in the nonfiction section of Amazon’s store for Kindle Singles. (Though ironically, the #2 best-seller in the nonfiction section is a parody about the life of Vice President Biden by The Onion.) But King had another reason for publishing this 25-page essay as a Kindle Single, according to the article in Britain’s Guardian newspaper. He “wanted it published as soon as possible, given the Obama administration’s looming battle with the National Rifle Association and its allies.”
America is in the middle of a nationwide debate about the possibility of new gun control laws. And King’s essay “stresses that he is an unapologetic gun-owner with at least half a foot in the conservative camp of the US divide,” the Guardian notes. But he’s calling for a ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons, calling them weapons of mass destruction. “When lunatics want to make war on the unarmed and unprepared, these are the weapons they use.”
The essay also takes a surprising turn when King remembers that some teenaged gunman claimed that their inspiration came from a story written by Stephen King — the 1977 novel Rage. King wrote it when he was a teenager himself, and later published it under his pen name, Richard Bachman. According to the Guardian, King’s essay “did not apologise for writing Rage — ‘no, sir, no ma’am’ — because it told the truth about high-school alienation and spoke to troubled adolescents who ‘were already broken’. However, he said, he ordered his publisher to withdraw the book because it had proved dangerous.”
“My book did not break (them) or turn them into killers,” reads a quote from King’s essay on The Huffington Post. “[T]hey found something in my book that spoke to them because they were already broken. Yet I did see Rage as a possible accelerant which is why I pulled it from sale. You don’t leave a can of gasoline where a boy with firebug tendencies can lay hands on it.”
King remains firm in his opposition to censorship, but also criticizes the staunch gun advocates who take an absolute position which he characterizes as “to hell with the collateral damage”.
I didn’t pull Rage from publication because the law demanded it; I was protected under the First Amendment and the law couldn’t demand it. I pulled it because in my judgement it might be hurting people, and that made it the responsible thing to do. Assault weapons will remain readily available to crazy people until the powerful pro-gun forces in this country decide to do a similar turnaround. They must accept responsibility, recognizing that responsilibity is not the same as culpability. They need to say, ‘we support these measures not because the law demands we support them, but because it’s the sensible thing.’
Until that happens, shooting sprees will continue.