Joan Merriam: It can happen in Nevada County | TheUnion.com

Joan Merriam: It can happen in Nevada County

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Joan Merriam

"It can't happen here." That's what a lot of us say, especially when we live in small towns like Grass Valley … like Nevada City … like Sutherland Springs.

This is the sort of carnage that we have sadly come to associate with cities like New York or London or Beirut, but not with nothing-ever-happens-here towns like ours.

Except that last Sunday, it did.

Once again, a single gunman has carried out a calculated massacre in an unfathomable explosion of violence. Once again, a nation is mourning the loss of innocent civilians — over half of them children. And once again, we are left asking, "Why?"

By Monday morning, pundits, politicians, and ordinary people alike were blindly declaring that this was a mental health issue, not a gun issue. Even before we knew anything at all about his motives or beliefs or associations, some quarters were insisting that blame rests on the killer's mind rather than the instrument of death he was carrying.

That death instrument was just one among the 27 million guns purchased legally in the U.S. last year. Twenty-seven million. Yet they say it's not a gun problem.

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I believe it's time — long past time, in fact — for America to re-think our unhealthy fascination with guns, particularly the type of semi-automatic rifle that was responsible for so much death and destruction in Sutherland Springs this week.

It's been said before, but demands restatement now: what does an ordinary citizen need with an assault-type weapon explicitly designed to inflict maximum damage on the human body?

The killer's weapon wasn't a handgun or hunting rifle: it was a semi-automatic Ruger AR-556 rifle, a variant of the popular AR-15 which the National Rifle declares "can be modified to your own personal taste." Such "modifications" include lawful add-ons like drop-in triggers, auto-sears, bump-fire stocks, and high-capacity magazines that turn an already lethal weapon into a virtually automatic object of destruction capable of firing more than 700 rounds a minute.

That's over 100 bullets in just 10 seconds, transforming a shooting into a veritable reign of terror. Yet it's all perfectly legal.

But guns aren't the problem, they say.

Instead, we wring our hands and call for prayers and compassion for the dead and injured and their loved ones.

Instead, we insist, "It's just another nut-job," so we can pat ourselves on the back and deny culpability.

So we don't have to address the real issue of a gun culture gone wildly out of control. So we can avoid labeling the gun lobby as the merchants of death they have become as they push for fewer and fewer restrictions on the types of lethal weapons and the people who own them that have destroyed lives in places like Orlando, San Bernardino, Aurora, Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech and Umpqua College, Las Vegas, and now Sutherland Springs.

Instead of "Why?" I believe it's time we start asking "When?" of our leaders and legislators.

When will we find the courage to confront the reality of gun violence and name it for what it is?

When will we demand reasonable limitations on the kinds of murderous weapons that have no place in the hands of everyday citizens?

And when will we all come to our senses so we can stop burying our friends, our families, and our children in this appalling American bloodbath?

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada City.