I am emphatically not part of the target audience for this essay, for the simple reason that I do not live in the United States of America and hence do not have to worry overmuch about guns getting into the hands of psychopaths who go on killing sprees. Stephen King wrote Guns (to quite some public stir) in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It represents what I gather is a moderate viewpoint in the ongoing weapons control debate, maintaining a right to own arms for US citizens but arguing in favour of banning automatic weaponry for general sale. The arguments are solid and reasonable and, this being Stephen King, the rhetoric is persuasive as a matter of course and the whole thing is immensely readable.
But that is not really what interested me about Guns – being fortunate enough to live in a civilized part of the world I do not have to be convinced that unrestricted public access to guns is a bad idea, nor do I need to convince anyone else of it, as the laws of the country I live in severely limit and control who is allowed to possess guns, and quite obviously and to almost unanimous public agreement (we do have some right wing nuts here, too, but fortunately they’re a minority, and for the most part a not very vocal one) everyone is all the better for it.
And what is so utterly baffling to every Non-USian is precisely how in spite of every single reasonable argument and every single available fact demonstrating that unrestricted access to guns is A Very Bad Thing Indeed there still is a huge lobby in favour of gun possession, to the point that often even otherwise quite reasonable people stubbornly ignore the blatantly obvious when it comes to private ownership of guns. I suspect that the majority of USians does not even realise just how weird and bizarre this attitude appears to the rest of the world, and I was hoping on some insight as to how such a wilful ignoring of empirical evidence in favour of a paranoid fantasia can take hold of a whole nation.
It is not really something the essay does provide, but then it is not something it ever set out to, and at the end of the day I suppose that Stephen King is too much caught up in the whole matter himself to be able to get an in-depth perspective on it. Probably only some future historian will have the necessary distance and detachment, but when he or she writes the definite monograph on “The Gun Craze in the Late Capitalist USA”, I could imagine King’s essay providing some useful material for the study. He opens with a satirical salvo about the way the media report on mass killings (which would make for a fascinating subject in and of itself), moves into autobiographical narrative for a bit to tell about one of his early novels that turned up on the bookshelf of several shooters, and concludes with taking apart several “arguments” (one really can’t call them that without quotation marks) in favour of unrestricted gun acess.
All of which makes Guns well worth reading if you happen to live in the United States and are in need of some striking arguments in favour of gun control (it would be naive to assume that anyone who is not in favour of that is ever going to read the essay). However, it should be kept in mind that in the final analysis, this is only curing the symptoms and that the problem will not go away for as long as guns are considered to be sexy. I recommend this excellent blog post by Matt Cheney for placing the gun control debate in a wider cultural context.