Joan Merriam: The slaughter continues |

Joan Merriam: The slaughter continues

Other Voices
Joan Merriam

This feels like the replay of a bad horror film. A hideously-repetitive Groundhog Day. Once again, a mass shooting has devastated an American school. This time, 17 children and adults are dead.

How can we tolerate this continued slaughter?

I’m not tolerating it, you respond: I’m just as horrified as you are.

But the time for feeling horrified is over. The time for platitudes and excuses and rationalizations is over. It is no longer enough for our nation’s leaders and legislators to offer their sympathies and support for the grieving. Lip service is no longer enough.

The real abomination is that civilians are able to acquire these assault-type weapons in the first place.

The fact that a teenager somehow managed to acquire a semi-automatic weapon should be an abomination to us all — but it goes deeper than that. The real abomination is that civilians are able to acquire these assault-type weapons in the first place.

People will talk about mental health, point to mental illness as if it were the reason for the carnage. But we need to see that kind of talk for what it is: an expedient and painless way to insulate us from responsibility. It allows us to point our fingers at someone other than ourselves, people who are “deranged” or “unhinged” or “troubled” or even “evil.”

How easy. It’s not my fault. It’s the fault of someone’s diseased brain.

Or, it’s the fault of our schools or communities that haven’t prepared adequately for this type of tragedy.

Or the fault of our laws that allow people who are mentally ill to possess guns.

That means that someone like me, someone who suffers from clinical depression, wouldn’t be allowed to own a gun because I’m “mentally ill.” It means someone who suffers from social anxiety wouldn’t be allowed to own a gun, because they’re “mentally ill.” Or someone who has an eating disorder … ADHD … obsessive-compulsive disorder … a learning disability. These people are all mentally ill, a convenient “other” to blame for our own failings.

Pointing to mental health also allows us to deflect the conversation away from the stark reality that virtually every one of these mass shootings have been carried out with semi-automatic assault-type weapons that allow people to carry out mass murders on a scale unheard of in any other nation in the world.

That’s not “politicizing” this shooting. Left or right, liberal or conservative, we need to stop insisting that this isn’t the right time to have a national conversation about this issue because we need to allow the suffering to grieve. The problem is, somehow we never get around to having the discussion — much less doing anything — because there’s always another catastrophe-of-the-week that diverts our attention.

If not now, when is the right time? After another mass shooter destroys more lives and more communities? After more innocent children are murdered? After our own child or sibling or parent or friend is executed by someone with an AR-15?

We need to raise our voices now. We need to insist that our country’s leaders do more than just offer empty condolences, then return to their pristine legislative chambers in Washington where no one has the courage to face the real reason behind these massacres and take a stand against the gun lobby.

The time is now to say enough is enough. The time is now to talk about the prevalence of assault-type weapons in America, and take action to prohibit their possession by anyone other than the military and law enforcement.

This isn’t about gun control. This isn’t about denying someone their Second Amendment rights. This is something that we as Americans, as people of conscience and compassion, need to do in order to prevent another bloodbath like the one we saw on Valentine’s Day.

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada City.

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