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, Colo., 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, many 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.
And tell me: Why do we bar people on the terrorism watch list from boarding planes while still allowing them to purchase guns?
In 2011, a spokesman for al-Qaida, Adam Gadahn, urged would-be terrorists in America to pick up an assault rifle at a gun show, where there might not be a background check.
He emphasized how easy this is and added, “What are you waiting for?”
Other steps to lower gun deaths don’t even directly involve firearms.
Programs like Cure Violence and Becoming a Man have been shown effective in reducing violence among at-risk young people.
The military has conducted experiments showing that counseling can reduce suicides (a majority of gun deaths in America are suicides).
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 such as Kendrick Castillo and Riley Howell, by making such heroics less necessary in classrooms around America.