The new heroes of gun violence

There’s a new standard of heroism in America. The hero is the one who jumps in front of the shooter, saving lives while sacrificing his own. It happened twice in recent weeks.

This is a new subject for frank talks between parents and teenagers. You may be the mom or dad who pleads with your teenager not to be a hero.

John Castillo, father of 18-year-old dead hero Kendrick Castillo, had had that talk with his son. Kendrick did the opposite, jumped in front of the shooter and was killed in the attack on a high school south of Denver on May 7.

College student Riley Howell was killed while tackling the shooter at the University of North Carolina on April 30.

On May 17, in Portland, Oregon, the hero was a coach, Keanon Lowe. He tackled the gunman before shooting started. He and everyone else at the school, including the gunman, lived to tell about it.

The hero phenomenon is an escalation of the school shooting phenomenon. In one incident last year, a 29-year-old teacher was the hero, disarming a 13-year-old student. The teacher was injured; no one was killed.

During the Aztec High School incident in December 2017, several staff members took quick action and helped save lives, but nobody jumped in front of the gunman.

Training and preparing for active shooter incidents has become an industry. In New Mexico, our Public Schools Insurance Authority has hired a consulting firm to train personnel. I recently attended a presentation on preventing and responding to active shooters, for both workplaces and schools.

I found especially troubling the reminder, now commonly repeated, to be suspicious, in our workplaces and classrooms, of individuals who behave oddly. Watch out not only for the bully but for the one who is bullied and silently smolders with resentment. It makes perfect sense, but is hardly the way I’d like to view my fellow human beings.

In active shooter situations, the presenter said, it’s better to run than hide. That’s because it’s hard to hit a moving target. Statistically, you are likely to survive if hit. If you have to hide, barricade the door of the room and hide in a “hard corner,” one that cannot be seen if the shooter breaks the glass in the door. Hiding under a school desk is almost useless.

But stopping that troubled individual from getting that gun is still something we can’t agree on.

The 2019 New Mexico legislature passed a law (SB 8) requiring background checks for gun purchases and another law (SB 328) prohibiting domestic abusers and persons convicted of domestic violence-related crimes from possessing firearms.

The sheriffs of 26 of New Mexico’s 33 counties have declared they won’t enforce these laws. County commissions have supported these declarations, declaring themselves “Second Amendment sanctuary” counties. That includes San Juan County, where Aztec is located.

Kendrick Castillo and Riley Howell, the heroes, have been deservedly celebrated in their own communities. They will probably get school buildings or parks named after them. Perhaps Aztec will do something similar for the two dead students, Casey Jordan Marquez and Francisco Fernandez. Ask their parents whether they’d rather have a monument or a live child.

The Internet has created insidious new ways for children to feel isolated and left out. The ubiquity of news coverage provides models of how to use violence to express rage. And our gun culture continues to give ready access to weapons to anybody who wants them. “Harden” the school buildings and the shooters will use a bus stop or the football field.

And now Virginia Beach, 12 dead. Business as usual.

In America, we would rather keep our guns and risk losing our children. So this is not going to change. Get used to it.

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