Thursday, January 31, 2013

Repeating My Sandy Hook Promise . . .

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. . . to have conversations on all of the issues . . .

Who would have thought Stephen King, master of contemporary American horror and, some would say, gore, would so deliberately enter the American debate on gun control?

 Not only does his creatively sinister mind wage in on the issue that has been pushed to its tipping point by the Sandy Hook tragedy last month; he does so with precise measures of common sense and just a touch of the macabre. It’s as if this writer of extreme fiction took the Sandy Hook Promise with one hand placed over his heart and the other atop a copy of Carrie.

The acclaimed author of real and psychological horror does not suggest repealing the Second Amendment’s Right to Bear Arms. King's Kindle single Guns, published this month, offers a concise rationale that  boils down the issue of gun violence and control to three “reasonable measures” that would curb gun violence 

  • ·         Comprehensive and universal background checks
  • ·         Ban the sale of clips and magazines containing more than ten rounds
  • ·         Ban the sale of assault weapons such as the Bushmaster and the AR-15

As a longtime teacher of the argumentative essay, I’d give King an A+ on his essay (an accolade he can add to his National Book Award in 2003), not just  because I agree with him, but because he presents his case so well. It’s worth $.99 just to see how carefully he did his homework (research) and structured his argument.*

Yet, it is not King’s rhetoric I am most impressed with. It is the personal narrative that opens the piece about steps he took in the late 1990s, almost fifteen years before Sandy Hook. That was when he pulled Rage, a novel he  wrote in 1977 (under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman), out of print because it had come to be loosely connected to four different teenagers who committed school shootings.

King addressed the difficulty he had making this choice in a keynote address  to the Vermont Library Conference in 1999, clarifying he did not feel that, just because these troubled teenagers had copies of Rage, they committed the shootings. “My book did not break them or turn them into killers; they found something in my book that spoke to them because they were already broken,” King said.

King’s statement reveals what rational Americans know: there is no simple cause and effect to maniacal acts of violence, acts that take a greater toll when guns are accessible. Yet, even though King believes in the First Amendment's Freedom of Speech as well as the Second Amendment, he agreed to surrender a portion of his right to free speech, because, as he states in Guns, “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 admits regretting having to remove the book from, essentially, the reach of deranged teens, but he goes on to say he did it because it was the right thing to do.

Let’s look at this: In King’s case, the morally right thing for him to do was to voluntarily give up a bit of his First Amendment Right – Freedom of Speech – even as  essential as that right is to a writer.

With King as a model of reasonable concession, it should not be too much to ask an adherent of the Second Amendment, the Right to Bear Arms, to voluntarily give up the bit of the arsenal that has repeatedly become the mass destroyers of innocent lives. Innocent lives like the 20 first-grade children and six adults of Sandy Hook Elementary School who were gunned down because of a lethal mix of mental illness, accessible weapons, a culture’s penchant for violent entertainment, etc., all of which King addresses in Guns  -  just as he is compelled to address  the most real horror he has ever put to mind: the “gore-splattered rooms and hallways (of Sandy Hook Elementary School) when the first responders entered them."

*proceeds of King's Kindle Single Guns goes to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.


  1. I'm intrigued. King's tract is downloading via Whispernet now.

    I find some errors in his arguments, as you've summarized them, though:

    -Background checks: all 50 states have them already and have for years. Granted, some states (<20, IIRC) have "gun show loopholes" which are being hurriedly closed. CT, MA, and RI are loophole-free and have been for over a decade. All weapons used in Newtown were legally purchased and registered.-->This measure would have no impact on a future Newtown-type event.

    -Magazine size restrictions. No magazine with a capacity of more than 10 rounds was used in Newtown. The one weapon with a 100 rd capacity used in Aurora malfunctioned after fewer than 30 rounds. Anyone who owns one of these will tell you that type of reliability is typical, which is why the military and law enforcement do not use them.--> This restriction would have no impact on a future Newtown-type event.

    -Ban the sale of "Assault Weapons" (e.g. AR-15): There was not a single Bushmaster or AR-type weapon employed in Newtown, despite early media reports. True, one was found in the assailant's car, but it was never fired.--> This restriction would have no impact on a future Newtown-type event. (Also, what is an "assault weapon" anyway? See:

    As a responsible gun owner, it appears that millions of ill-informed voices are clamoring about subjects with which they have no personal experience, demanding changes and measures which have no direct correlation to the events they are trying to prevent. It reeks of people with a political agenda leveraging public outrage in the wake of tragedy to their advantage, which is repugnant. Three measures are proposed by Mr. King, none of which would have had any effect on preventing or reducing the carnage in Newtown. Curiously, all three have been cornerstones of the Brady Campaign's platform for years. The mind fairly reels.

    Why is no one addressing the issue of shootings happening in "gun free zones" with much higher frequency than in other public spaces, where duly licensed personnel are allowed to concealed-carry? How many of those murdered teachers and staff were trained, licensed gun owners who were unable to exercise their right to self-defense due to CT's prohibitions on guns in schools?

    Why are we not demanding faster response times from our local law-enforcement personnel? (Avg 911 response time in the US is 22 minutes)

    Why are we not asking why the police were not properly trained or equipped to address a school shooting scenario in their own town?

    Why are we not having a frank and open discussion of public mental healthcare policies?

    These questions seem far more germane to the conversation. The answers to these questions could have directly prevented Newtown and Aurora, or at least minimized their impacts. Yet nobody is asking them in the mainstream media. Why? The answers are not simple, cheap, or malleable into a 10 second soundbite or Twitter status. They're not politically expedient or tractable in the 15 minutes of national attention this event will receive before we collectively move on to the next catastrophe. However, that doesn't make them any less valid topics of consideration or any less critical to eking out a viable solution to the problem of gun violence in America.

  2. Thank you for replying. I'm glad you decided to download the essay. You raise some good points. Yet, it seems most responses I read to the issue have conflicting facts. Hard to know what to believe. I do know as a teacher that schools need to have an armed officer as part of its staff - as my high school has for years. But I do not want to see schools becomes armed fortresses. I think ultimately the American people will figure out, sooner rather than later, what steps need to be taken to curtail this epidemic of violence while still keeping the Second Amendment intact.