“Guns” is… an essay, I guess. I guess it was published as an ebook first, or maybe a Kindle single? If it’s called an ebook, it’s only because “e-essay” is not really a word. It’s not long enough to be a book. It could probably be someone’s tragedy-inspired Facebook rant, except the author is a real author.
Which is not to say anything bad about it (yet, anyway. I’m not totally enthused with this either.) It came out in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings. The first time I encountered it, in audio form for some reason, I remember nodding along and mostly agreeing. If you remember the Sandy Hook shootings, you probably remember the short amount of time when it seemed like there might be at least some real movement on the gun front, that maybe a bunch of dead elementary schoolers was a bridge too far even for the real gun nuts. It seemed to me, at the time, that King’s kind of centrist-y stance — we have to do something about guns, but we’re not trying to take them away and we also have to understand each other and make allowances and watch each other’s news sources, etc, etc, — seemed thoughtful and basically reasonable.
Well, in case you’ve been living under a rock since then, here’s a newsflash. The only thing that’s changed since Sandy Hook is more mass shootings at more schools and public places. And they weren’t rare then, so that’s, uh, really bad news. As I’m writing this, it’s been exactly 30 days since the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde Texas. Here’s a link in case a zillion other shootings have buried this one in your mind by the time you read this — this one isn’t scheduled to publish until September. Who knows how many massacres may happen between June and September? And reading through this 2013 response to Sandy Hook in 2022 shortly after Uvalde — and everything in between Sandy Hook and Uvalde, and everything since Uvalde because it never. freaking. ends. — it just hits different.
Part of the essay is about how King came to let his story Rage fall out of print. That part is still interesting, and I generally agree with him there. I don’t believe that books about shooters cause shooters. Nor do I believe that music, video games, television, movies, or any of the myriad other things that get blamed (never the guns themselves of course) cause shooters. But there’s also no point in giving them a script, Rage was never abundant in artistic value, and if my book were showing up in the lockers of school shooters or being quoted by school shooters, even if it were only a couple, I would probably want it gone too. Not because the book caused anything, but because the book is not helping and not great enough to justify where it’s winding up.
Where King loses me is around where he starts suggesting that all the liberals need to watch Fox for a year and all the conservatives need to watch MSNBC for a year (and centrists should just watch CSI… because, reasons, I guess?) He seems to be arguing that we just don’t understand each other and where we’re coming from. This is a really common argument made to liberals — we’re always being told that we need to be more understanding of conservatives found in greasy spoons in the heartland or of 8 coal miners in Wyoming or of whatever JD Vance was going on about in his book. King may be unique in suggesting that conservatives also need to understand us because I can’t remember any politician, public figure, or giant newspaper writing sympathetic profiles of distressed Hillary Clinton enthusiasts found in diners or wherever after the 2016 election or exhorting conservatives generally to try to imagine they live in San Fransisco or New York and understand where the blue staters and liberals are coming from. So I give him points for both-sidesing a little more genuinely than most of the both siders. But that’s about it. If I ever did agree that all the problems — including the problem of way too many guns shooting way too many people including way too many actual children — I don’t agree with it anymore. There may be a lack of understanding, but that’s not the actual problem at the moment. The problem at the moment is that about half of us have decided we’re at war with the other half, and the other half thinks we’re at a collegiate debate. It’s madness and chaos, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and people are getting hurt.
To be fair, I don’t know if King still thinks like this. Anyone who follows him on Twitter knows that he’s pretty left in terms of his political leanings. Yes, he’s left in a rich white guy way, but he does seem to be trying. (And as I’ve noted more than once, he’s been political for… at least as long as he’s been writing. It didn’t start with Trump, or Twitter, or W. Bush, or whatever. It’s there in pretty much every book, it was there in his college years, and it probably started developing even before that. And before he was left in a rich white guy way, he was left in a poor, rural white guy way… which isn’t as different as you’d think. But I will say for King that he does take in new information and make progress. Eventually. That’s not everything, but it’s something. The point being, things change.
OK, so after Sandy Hook, King was thinking that all these murdered small children would finally be a breaking point, that some changes were definitely going to come out of this, and that we just needed to understand each other better. I probably thought at least similarly at the time, and I still don’t think it was unreasonable to think that way. Unrealistic, as it turns out, but not unreasonable. But then nothing happened. America decided that it was going to step over the bodies of those dead kids to go to the shooting range. Except for those of us who stepped over them to go shoot more children. And adults. It’s been years, the shootings keep happening, no progress is made… and then, Uvalde. Again, a pile of dead kids. And people are talking about real change in gun laws again, but we’re even more polarized than we were when Sandy Hook happened, and even the people who seem optimistic about real changes are only talking about the smallest of changes around the margins. To get enough people from both sides on board, the changes have to be so minimal that they probably won’t even matter. And frankly, I’m not optimistic about even that. Does he still think that watching each other’s preferred news channels for a year would actually do anything? I hope not. I wonder, though.
(Also, I know this doesn’t really matter as far as the topic of Stephen King goes, but comparing Fox and MSNBC this way bugs me. Fox is actually, openly an arm of the Republican party at this point. MSNBC has a former Republican congressman headlining their 3-hour morning show. A frequent guest of his is the former chairman of the RNC. Trump called into his show on a regular basis throughout much of his presidential campaign, and hosts and guests tee-heed at whatever BS came out of his mouth. Basically, a huge chunk of their programming Monday through Friday is a conservative guy spouting conservative views with his conservative guests and his (ostensibly not conservative but come on) wife/co-host. The show that is — or was, I don’t know if it still is — most popular on that network is Rachel Maddow, who probably is one of the more liberal people on that network, but is so well-known for being fair and evenhanded to everyone that Republicans who wouldn’t be caught dead on some other MSNBC show will talk to her. Please compare these observations about MSNBC to Fox news. Is a democrat running their morning show? Is Tucker Carlson known for being fair to every guest and putting events into historical context? Come on. These are not the same. Not even close.)