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A memorial service was conducted for Riley Howell, one of two students killed in a campus shooting at UNC Charlotte, on May 5 in Lake Junaluska.

There is something very wrong with our country when young students confronting gunmen have more courage than politicians kowtowing to the National Rifle Association.

Twice in the span of a week, we saw dramatic news stories about a young hero saving lives of his fellow students by rushing a shooter at their school.

Riley Howell, 21, was given a hero’s funeral after he charged at the gunman at UNC Charlotte. Howell was shot three times before he died, but he managed to knock the shooter down and end the killing.

A week later, Kendrick Castillo, 18, jumped at the gunman terrorizing his English class at a STEM school in Colorado, giving his life to save classmates. Other boys in the class tackled the shooter, took his gun and held him until police arrived.

These young heroes knew the drill. Children in the United States today face active shooter training from too early an age. They know the mantra: Run, hide, fight. If running and hiding aren’t options, then rush the shooter.

As mass shootings have become an epidemic in the U.S, children have grown up seeing examples in the news. Last June, there was Wendi Winters, a reporter at the Annapolis Capital in Maryland. She rose to confront the gunman who charged into the newsroom, sacrificing her life to save her coworkers.

Winters had taken active shooter training at her church. Think about that.

How about Nate Holley, the sixth grader who grabbed a metal baseball bat when he heard the shooting at the Colorado school. “I was gonna go down fighting if I was gonna go down,” the 12-year-old said later.

A 12-year-old. Think about that.

It’s right to honor the heroes who bravely sacrifice their lives.

But how much better it would be — for them, their families and everyone — if they weren’t placed in the awful position of deciding whether to fight a killer.

How much better it would be if our children weren’t growing up fearful of gunmen at their schools.

How much better it would be if our politicians could muster more courage in standing up to the gun lobby.

After each new mass shooting, “thoughts and prayers” are extended to the victims and survivors. There’s talk of tougher gun laws. And then the talk fades, usually with little or no real change.

Lawmakers in many states, including North Carolina, try to come up with ways to make schools safer: training, more police officers in schools, mental health initiatives, tip lines and the like.

But more often than not, they either steer clear of an essential problem — the ready availability of guns — or can’t reach agreement on gun control. In North Carolina, the Republican majority in the General Assembly is still trying to weaken restrictions on guns, and no gun control bills have advanced in the legislature this year.

On the national level, Congress has a long record of inaction on most sensible gun control.

Granted, new laws won’t solve all the problems in a society already full of guns.

But there are changes that could help. Enacting and enforcing stiff penalties for failing to store guns safely is one. Making it harder to buy guns, including requiring background checks at gun shows, is another. “Red flag” bills to remove guns from the homes of youths and others identified as troubled make sense.

We have to start somewhere, don’t we?

Or are we just going to leave it to our children to protect themselves?

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