Like most of the bloodthirsty dodo-birds who feel an urge to take out as many people as possible before killing themselves, James Seevakumaran had a simple plan: pull a fire alarm in his University of Central Florida dormitory on Monday, and, when the students ran out, he’d kill as many as possible. He had a bunch of explosives that probably wouldn’t have worked — they weren’t fully wired — but he also had guns that would have: a .45 Hi-Point semi-automatic pistol and another of those damned assault rifles, in this case an American Tech .22 with a 28-cartridge clip, small enough to fit into a gym bag.
This time it didn’t happen, because one of Seevakumaran’s roommates became suspicious, locked himself in the bathroom and dialed 911. When Seevakumaran saw the police arriving, he killed himself and no one else. A happy ending of sorts, if you consider the possible alternatives.
At UCF, luck was with the good guys. At Sandy Hook Elementary School, not so much. In that case a lot of good guys and girls — little good guys and girls — were senselessly slaughtered before they could even finish collecting from the Tooth Fairy on their baby teeth. Not fair. Not fair at all.
In the wake of Sandy Hook, I wrote an essay called “Guns,” and published it as a Kindle Single — an e-book, in other words — because I wanted to be a part of the discussion before the whole subject slipped from the consciousness (and consciences) of the American people. It has a way of doing that, you know; the National Rifle Association counts on it.
What I asked for in that piece — what I almost begged for — was that we Americans find some middle ground on the subject of heavy-duty firearms. Just a small median strip of rationality between the honking freeway lanes jammed with those on the political right and the political left. According to polls, the majority of Americans would really like a place like that, where a rational discussion could be held without raised voices.
I pointed out that I’m dead against repeal of the Second Amendment, since I’m a gun owner myself. I also pointed out that a deer hunter who feels it necessary to go into the woods armed with a 30-round AR-15 must either have poor aim or is afraid the deer are going to fight back. I refused to go on any of the cable news programs — both those on the right that would have been happy to attack me or the ones on the left that would have been delighted to praise me.
The response to that essay has been strong but, in many ways, depressing. There have been more than 1,300 capsule reviews on the Amazon website. A thousand have been favorable (834 five-star reviews, 205 four-star reviews). More than 200 have been unfavorable (160 one-star reviews, 49 two-star reviews). In the middle, the place I really wanted to reach, less than 90. If you need a statistical example of how polarized the country is, there it is.
We’ve got two vocal political blocs in the United States right now, and all they do is yell at each other. Not only about guns, either. It’s the debt, it’s abortion, it’s immigration reform, it’s entitlements like Medicare and Social Security, it’s foreign policy, it’s Obama (the bum) and John Boehner (the bum). My God, we’ve got people still arguing over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and whether or not the president is an American citizen. Sometimes I wish they’d all just grow up, shut up and go about the business of helping their fellow men and women.
Here’s another depressing factoid: Most of the five-star reviews of “Guns” are marked “Amazon Verified Purchase,” which means the reviewer actually bought the download and (presumably) read it. That’s the case with very few of the one-star reviews, suggesting that the reviewers either read excerpts in a newspaper article or didn’t read it at all. There are assertions that my facts are wrong but little in the way of backing evidence.
What there seems to be in the one-stars is an all-encompassing anger and the irrational belief that I want Americans stripped of their guns. That is simply not true (nor would it be feasible). I argued for three things: universal background checks, a ban on the retail sale of semi-auto assault rifles geared to fire large magazines of ammunition and a ban on mags holding more than 10 rounds. Everyone else keeps their deer rifles, shotguns, revolvers and automatic pistols. All I want is to make it a little more difficult for the Adam Lanzas and James Seevakumarans to kill unarmed civilians and innocent children. Why in the name of God should that be controversial?
Many of my anti-fans are also mad about where my share of the proceeds from “Guns” is going. One of them, a Mr. or Ms. C. Henderson, writes, “All of this is a way for Stephen King to … give money to an organization … whose avowed purpose is to strip Americans of their Second Amendment rights.”
Mr. or Ms. Henderson seems to have missed the fact that the organization in question is the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, not the Brady Campaign to Repeal the Second Amendment. Stop with the paranoia, please. The BC’s mission statement simply says, “We are devoted to creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at work, and in our communities.” That’s a lot different from saying, “We are devoted to creating an America free from guns.”
Look, most Americans want these simple laws, so let’s make them. If they run counter to the Second Amendment, the Supreme Court will eventually overturn them. If they stand (they probably will), the hunters can still hunt, the target shooters can still shoot, and homeowners can still have a weapon or two at hand for defense and protection. The rest of us will be a little safer.
There are no guarantees in life; nothing’s a lock. I think we all understand that. You can outlaw AR-15s, but you can’t outlaw crazy. The next Adam Lanza is out there somewhere, the next Seung-Hui Cho, the next James Holmes. The job we all have, as responsible Americans, is to make it as hard for these loonies as possible.
Can we at least find a middle ground on that?
Stephen King is a novelist who has lived in Bangor for more than 30 years. He winters in Florida.