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Adults fail on gun control; children pay the price


Kendrick Castillo’s death in the Colorado high school shooting last week was national news – for a few days. And then it was replaced by other stories. Trump and McGhan. Iran and North Korea. China and the trade war.

A week earlier, the deaths of Ellis Parlier and Riley Howell at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte were also national news, briefly. The New York Times quoted a tweet from sophomore Tristan Field, who had witnessed the shooting: “Why here? Why today? Why UNC Charlotte? Why my classroom? What did we do?”

Heartbreaking. And still we refuse to pass sensible gun-control laws.

In my home state of Tennessee, you don’t need a permit or any kind of training to keep a gun at home. You need a permit if you’re going to carry a gun around outside, on your person, but you can keep it in your home without a permit – loaded or unloaded.

You can keep also keep it in your car, and thousands of Tennesseans are are driving around with guns in their cars, ready to shoot whenever they think there’s a threat.

(They're also leaving their cars unlocked. Whereupon, presumably to nobody’s surprise, thieves are stealing the guns. In Nashville last year, according to NPR’s Morning Edition, 659 guns were reported stolen from vehicles. In Memphis, the figure was almost 1300.)

We’re making more and more guns available, and losing more and more people to the violence they cause.

In Colorado, Kendrick Castillo and two other students had tackled the teenager who is accused in the shooting, one of them holding him down until police arrived. In Charlotte, Riley Howell had done the same.

Both Kendrick and Riley died protecting their classmates. “Riley was deservedly given a hero’s funeral,” wrote the Times’ Nicholas Kristof last week, “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.”

Students protecting students: This has become a horrifying part of the story of this country’s gun violence, and I’m still haunted by a segment from NPR’s “Story Corps” series from last year. In it, Houston resident Tanai Bernard asked her 10-year-old son Dezmond Floyd to describe an active-shooter drill at his school.

The class “is supposed to stand on the back wall,” Dezmond said, but he stood in front of the class instead, "because I want to take the bullet and save my friends.”

“My life matters," Dezmond told his mother, "but, it’s kind of like, there’s one person that can come home to the family or there can be 22 people that come home to a family.”

That’s how one of this country’s 10-year-olds is having to think.

Following the arrest of the student accused of murder in the North Carolina shooting earlier this month, the student's grandfather, Paul Rold, talked to the New York Times. “I want people to know that guns are too accessible,” Rold said.

“It could have been averted,” he told the Times. “Our legislators have to value human life more than they do re-election.”

But since our legislators won’t act, we’re leaving it to our children to protect each other. And then we shed tears over the stories of children’s courage. It is easier to do that, apparently, than to summon our own courage and pass gun-control laws to protect them.