Joan Merriam: Where do we go from here? |

Joan Merriam: Where do we go from here?

Forty-five. A pretty ordinary number, right? In minutes, it’s three-quarters of an hour … in sports, about half of a football game … in marriage, the sapphire celebration.

But now, 45 has taken on a darker and more gut-wrenching meaning: the killing rampage at Umpqua Community College in Oregon became the 45th school shooting in 2015.

When I first heard that statistic, it literally took my breath away.

Forty-five school shootings since Jan. 1?

After Columbine, I really thought this kind of violence was an anomaly… Yet the carnage continues.

How is that possible? And how is it possible that even someone like me — someone who’s not just socially and politically aware, but who teaches at a community college — had no idea that gun violence has terrorized our schools so often?

Perhaps a more important question is this: how is it possible that America has allowed this to happen?

How have we become so anesthetized to mass shootings that we’ve allowed this slaughter of the innocents to continue?

Most of us see the terrible news, read the breathless postings on Twitter or Facebook, and like poor, dispirited Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh, we wring our collective hands in dismay, mutter to ourselves that nothing can be done, and rush to change the channel or click on the newest funny cat video.

After Columbine, I really thought this kind of violence was an anomaly. Then came Virginia Tech … and Tucson … and Sandy Hook … and Charleston … and too many in between to mention … and after each one, I hoped our leaders would find the courage to do something.

Yet the carnage continues.

Now once again the nation mourns … until the next act of mind-numbing gun violence demands our attention.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, if you listen to the pundits: a broken mental health system, a media that glorifies violence, a spate of enraged and resentful young men, a culture addicted to the pursuit of fame, and of course either too many guns in the wrong hands or too few guns in the right hands.

It’s a fact that nearly all of these mass killings have been perpetrated by disturbed and angry young men motivated by hate, real or imagined grievances, or a thirst for media-enhanced immortality.

But there’s one more fact we cannot ignore: somehow, most of these raging, affronted, vengeful young men managed to acquire a legion of firearms and enough ammunition to take out a small town.

The Oregon shooter had six guns at the school, and seven at his home; at least one of the weapons he carried onto campus was a semi-automatic rifle, including five high-capacity ammunition magazines.

All of which begs two questions: who in the name of sanity needs 13 guns?

And who except law enforcement or the military needs weapons with magazines capable of firing tens of dozens of rounds in just a few seconds?

I, for one, just can’t buy the claim that it’s all in the name of self-defense.

Now once again, the incendiary rhetoric about guns and gun laws is rising to fever pitch.

And once again, I suspect, the two camps will posture and pontificate, and in the end no one will be better for the debate.

But this kind of my-way-or-the-highway absolutist position only results in a state of mutual antipathy.

Whether or not it would have made a difference in Roseburg or Paducah or Tucson, let’s concentrate on areas where most of us can agree, or at least compromise: for starters, closing the loophole that allows anyone — convicted criminals, stalkers, domestic abusers, and those with a history of dangerous mental illness — to buy firearms at gun shows, online, and from private parties without a background check.

And while it would probably take a herculean effort, I believe we need to re-ignite the push for a ban on assault-type weapons, which have no place in the hands of ordinary citizens, whether in their homes, their cities, or their hunting grounds.

Today, while the blood is still fresh on the floors of a small Oregon college, we must have the courage to talk about reforming of our gun control laws.

In the midst of our mourning, we must have the courage to demand change … if not for ourselves, for the sake of all those whose lives have been cut short by an assassin’s bullet.

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada City and teaches at Sierra College.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User


See more