We have 2 dead young heroes. It’s time to stand up to guns

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY NI­CHOLAS KRISTOF New York Times

Politi­cians fear­ful of the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion have al­lowed the gun lobby to run amok so that Amer­ica now has more guns than peo­ple, but there is still true hero­ism out there in the face of gun violence: stu­dents who rush shoot­ers at the risk of their own lives.

Let’s cel­e­brate, and mourn, a stu­dent named Ken­drick Castillo, 18, just days away from grad­u­at­ing in High­lands Ranch, Colorado, who on Tues­day helped save his class­mates in English lit­er­a­ture class from a gun­man.

“Ken­drick lunged at him, and he shot Ken­drick, giv­ing all of us enough time to get un­der­neath our desks, to get our­selves safe, and to run across the room to es­cape,” Nui Gi­a­solli, a stu­dent in the class­room, told the “To­day” show. Ken­drick was killed, and eight other stu­dents were in­jured.

At least three boys in the class – one of them Bren­dan Bialy, who hopes to be­come a Marine – tack­led and dis­armed the gun­man. “They were very heroic,” Nui said. Bravo as well to the po­lice of­fi­cers who ar­rived within two min­utes of the shoot­ing and seized the two at­tack­ers.

The courage of those stu­dents in Colorado echoes last week’s brav­ery of Ri­ley Howell, a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of North Carolina at Char­lotte. Ri­ley, 21, charged a gun­man there and con­tin­ued even as he was shot twice. As he tack­led the gun­man he was shot a third time, in the head, and killed, but he ended the shoot­ing.

Ri­ley was de­servedly given a hero’s funeral, and pre­sum­ably the same will hap­pen with Ken­drick. But their par­ents didn’t want mar­tyrs; they wanted chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. And it is ap­palling that we as a so­ci­ety have aban­doned Amer­i­can kids so that they must die to save their class­mates.

When New Zealand ex­pe­ri­enced a mass shoot­ing in March, it took the gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern just 26 days to tighten gun laws and ban as­sault ri­fles. In con­trast, Amer­ica has had 53 years of in­ac­tion since the Univer­sity of Texas tower shoot­ing in 1966 claimed 17 lives. Sandy Hook … Las Ve­gas … Park­land – so many dead; so lit­tle done.

Since 1970, 1.45 mil­lion Amer­i­cans have died from guns – sui­cides, mur­ders and ac­ci­dents. That’s more than the 1.4 mil­lion Amer­i­cans es­ti­mated to have died in all the wars in U.S. his­tory go­ing back to the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion.

This should also make us all cringe: In a typ­i­cal year, more Amer­i­can chil­dren ages 4 and younger die from firearms (110 in 2016) than po­lice of­fi­cers do in the line of duty (65 in 2016).

So let’s send thoughts and prayers to the fam­i­lies of vic­tims in Colorado and North Carolina, but let’s also push for a sen­si­ble gun pol­icy that would make such hero­ics less nec­es­sary.

Granted, this is com­pli­cated. Amer­ica has so many guns out there that new re­stric­tions may not be as ef­fec­tive as we would hope. The 10-year ban on as­sault ri­fles from 1994 to 2004 had trou­ble defin­ing as­sault weapons and had an un­cer­tain im­pact.

Still, there are ob­vi­ous steps worth tak­ing. A start­ing point would be to re­quire univer­sal back­ground checks be­fore all firearms sales. Some 22 per­cent of guns are still ac­quired in the U.S. with­out a back­ground check; a per­son want­ing to adopt a res­cue dog of­ten un­der­goes a more thor­ough check than a per­son buy­ing an as­sault ri­fle.

Safe stor­age of guns – in gun safes or with trig­ger locks – pre­vents chil­dren and oth­ers from ac­cess­ing firearms. Vol­un­tary gun buy­backs would re­duce the pool of firearms out there. We should also in­vest in “smart gun” tech­nolo­gies that re­quire a code or fin­ger­print to fire. We need more “red-flag laws” that make it more dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to ob­tain guns when they present a threat to them­selves or oth­ers.

Ev­ery day in 2017, the last year for which we have fig­ures, an aver­age of 107 peo­ple died in Amer­ica from guns. We’re not able to avert ev­ery shoot­ing, but we can save some lives. We need not have the courage of the stu­dents who charged gun­men; we just need to de­mand ac­tion from our mem­bers of Congress and state leg­is­la­tors.

That’s the best way to honor heroes like Ken­drick Castillo and Ri­ley Howell, by mak­ing such hero­ics less nec­es­sary in class­rooms around Amer­ica.

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