Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Repeating My Sandy Hook Promise

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

According to this week's New York Times, the vast majority of the American public wants background checks for sales of guns. I don't think our Founding Fathers would have rejected that notion if guns were as accessible in their day - at conventions and on the Internet -- as they are today. Yet, I never would have guessed Stephen King, master of contemporary American horror and, some would say, gore, would so deliberately enter the American debate on gun control on the side of more regulation.  
Photo from Google images

 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.

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