Stephen King has entranced millions with tales of dread but his latest volume will read like a horror only to the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights advocates. The best-selling author made an unexpected charge into the national debate on gun violence on Friday with a passionate, angry essay pleading for reform.
King, who owns three handguns, aimed the expletive-peppered polemic at fellow gun-owners, calling on them to support a ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons in the wake of the December shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school which left 20 children and six children dead.
"Autos and semi-autos are weapons of mass destruction. When lunatics want to make war on the unarmed and unprepared, these are the weapons they use," King wrote.
He said blanket opposition to gun control was less about defending the second amendment of the US constitution than "a stubborn desire to hold onto what they have, and to hell with the collateral damage". He added: "If that's the case, let me suggest that 'fuck you, Jack, I'm okay' is not a tenable position, morally speaking."
King finished the 25-page essay, Guns, last Friday and wanted it published as soon as possible, given the Obama administration's looming battle with the National Rifle Association and its allies. It was published on Friday on Amazon's online Kindle store, price 99 cents.
The novelist, who has sold more than 350 million books, last year issued a call for the rich, such as himself, to pay more tax. In his latest foray into politics, he acknowledges his liberal inclinations but stresses that he is an unapologetic gun-owner with at least half a foot in the conservative camp of the US divide.
In folksy, salty prose which blends policy prescription with dark humour, King alternately cajoles, praises and insults gun advocates in what appears to be a genuine pitch to change their minds. King kept Barack Obama out of it.
"Here's how it shakes out," the essay begins, before describing 22 ritual steps in which the US experiences a school massacre. Excoriating the media and television voyeurism, he writes: "Sixteenth, what cable news does best now begins, and will continue for the next seventy-two hours: the slow and luxurious licking of tears from the faces of the bereaved."
King recalls that the fictional schoolboy killer in his 1977 novel Rage, which was published under a pen name, Richard Bachman, resonated with several boys who subsequently rampaged at their own schools. One, Barry Loukaitis, shot dead a teacher and two students in Moses Lake, Washington in 1996, then quoted a line from the novel: "This sure beats algebra, doesn't it?"
King said he did not apologise for writing Rage – "no, sir, no ma'am" – because it told the truth about high-school alienation and spoke to troubled adolescents who "were already broken". However, he said, he ordered his publisher to withdraw the book because it had proved dangerous. He was not obliged to do so by law – it was protected by the first amendment – but it was the right thing to do. Gun advocates should do the same, he argued.
The idea that US gun rampages stem from a culture of violence was a "self-serving lie promulgated by fundamentalist religious types and America's propaganda-savvy gun-pimps", he wrote. In reality the US had a "Kardashian culture" which preferred to read and watch comedies, romances and super-heroes, rather than stories involving gun violence.
Much of the opposition to gun control stemmed from paranoia about the federal government, King argued. "These guys and gals actually believe that dictatorship will follow disarmament, with tanks in the streets of Topeka."
He assured gun owners that no one wanted to take away their hunting rifles, shotguns or pistols, as long as they held no more than 10 rounds. "If you can't kill a home invader (or your wife, up in the middle of the night to get a snack from the fridge) with ten shots, you need to go back to the local shooting range."
The mockery continued when he noted semi-automatics had only two purposes: to kill people, and to let their owners go to a shooting range, "yell yeehaw, and get all horny at the rapid fire and the burning vapor spurting from the end of the barrel".
King noted that homicides by firearm declined by 60% in Australia after strict gun controls were introduced. And that about 80 people die of gunshot wounds daily in the US.
In a line sure to affront the NRA, and delight the gun-control lobby, he added : "Plenty of gun advocates cling to their semi-automatics the way Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson clung to the shit that was killing them."
The essay was published as a Kindle Single, a format launched in 2011 for pieces too long for magazines but too short to be books. In a statement following publication, King said every citizen needed to ponder the fact the US was awash with guns. "If this helps provoke constructive debate," he said, "I've done my job."