Stephen King — best selling author of the very kind of violent books that gun advocates say contribute to gun violence — has penned Guns, a 25-page essay dismissing their criticism, while calling for universal background checks for gun purchases, and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
A self-described “blue-state American” who also owns guns, King is no stranger to how individuals can and do turn to art as inspiration for violence. During the 1990s, no fewer than four shooters read Rage — an early work King wrote in high school years and published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman years later — entered their high schools with guns, held students and teachers hostage, and in some cases killed them. The book chronicles how Charlie Decker, a troubled high school student with a “domineering father,” brought a gun to school, killed his algebra teacher, and held his class hostage — only to see his classmates experience a “psychological inversion” and come to his defense.
After copies of Rage were discovered in the possession of multiple high school shooters, King voluntarily pulled the book from publication. He did so not because the thin tome inspired would-be killers to commit unspeakable carnage; rather it acted “as a possible accelerant” for boys who spent time in psych wards pondering suicide or endured the kind of bullying that results in severe medical paranoia. These boys found a “soul brother” in Decker. He gave them “blueprints to express their hate and rage” and for that, King decided, he “had to go.” “You don’t leave a can of gasoline where a boy with firebug tendencies can lay hands on it,” the author writes in Guns.
But while art that taps into the heart of a troubled soul can “accelerate” violence, there is little evidence that it causes it. Those arguments, often advanced by conservative lawmakers with A ratings from the National Rifle Association — and the NRA itself — “throw popular culture into the debate in the hopes that it’ll be distracting chum to piranhas hungry for scapegoats but reluctant to fight difficult battles to make America safer.” They also avoid any examination of the “state of our own popular culture and the profound fears about justice, disempowerment, and the state of civil society that are reflected in it.”