When a gunman opened fire in a synagogue in California, 60-year-old Lori Gilbert Kaye jumped between the shooter and the rabbi. She was killed, but the rabbi credits her with saving his life.
When another man started shooting inside a classroom at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 21-year-old Riley Howell charged him. Shot three times, he died. Authorities said he stopped what would have been a far worse massacre.
And when gunfire broke out Tuesday at a science, technology, engineering and mathematics school in Colorado, 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo lunged at the shooter. He was fatally shot. Witnesses said his actions gave other students a chance to safely get away.
We mourn the loss of these people. They were heroes. Faced with the unimaginable, they were unshrinking. But the fact that people going about the business of everyday life — saying a prayer, giving a college presentation, sitting in English class — feel compelled to throw themselves into the line of fire puts to shame our so-called political leaders, who don’t even have the guts to pass sensible gun reform.
Rather than take proactive measures aimed at preventing shootings (such as New Zealand’s swift move to ban assault weapons), the United States operates on the seeming assumption that mass killing is inescapable, so citizens should learn how to best react. “Run, hide and fight” was the message blasted out to the UNC Charlotte campus when a gunman went on a rampage last month. “I heard a gunshot,” said Makai Dixon, a second-grader at STEM School Highlands Ranch who knew exactly what to listen for because of the drills and lockdowns that are now a core curriculum of U.S. schools. “I have to believe that the quick response of officers that got inside that school helped save lives,” said Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock of Tuesday’s events, which occurred not far from the site of the Columbine school shooting of two decades ago.
It’s good that lessons have been learned in dealing with emergencies. Much credit and gratitude go to the first responders who don’t flinch in racing toward danger. But they — and people such as Lori Gilbert Kaye, Riley Howell, Kendrick Castillo and Makai Dixon — deserve better. They deserve lawmakers who put their safety ahead of gun lobby interests and are willing to enact common-sense gun-control measures — such as universal background checks, a ban on assault rifles and safe storage requirements. That will take courage, but not nearly so much as what we’ve seen from those unelected Americans.