Lions and lambs — profiles in courage and cowardice

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Kendrick Castillo

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Surveying the wanton waste of life and ineptitude of leadership on the Western Front in World War I, German Gen. Max von Gallwitz penned to a colleague a truism that I think applies to the contemporary state of our society. “Never,” Gallwitz wrote, “have I seen such lions led by such lambs.”

America is celebrating and mourning the courage of its young lions, after two students willingly gave their lives to stop school shootings, saving an untold number of lives and giving us all an example of virtue to which we should aspire.

When a classmate opened fire at STEM School Highlands Ranch in suburban Denver on Tuesday, 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo did not hesitate to act. Castillo led the way among several other students in tackling the shooter, sacrificing his own life to subdue the attacker and give his classmates time to escape. His was the only life lost.

“I know that because of what he did, others are alive, and I thank God for that,” Castillo’s father told CNN. “I love him. And he is a hero and he always will be.”

Brendan Bialy, a Marine recruit and fellow student who also jumped the gunman, praised Castillo as a hero who “died a legend.”

“He died a trooper,” Bialy said. “I know he will be with me for the rest of my life.”

A week earlier, at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Riley Howell, 21, also placed the lives of his classmates above his own. Howell took two rounds to the chest, but was not deterred in his advance on the gunman in the UNCC lecture hall. A third shot ended Howell’s life, but only after he’d taken down the shooter, and given others the opportunity to disarm him.

Castillo and Howell shared more in common than their incredible heroism under fire. Long before their fateful, final acts of self-sacrificial love, both were known as kind, compassionate and selfless young men.

Howell’s parents described their son as “instinctively helpful,” having lived and died “headlong and helpfully.”

Castillo’s parents urged others to live fully and selflessly to honor their son and his sacrifice.

“Be selfless,” his father urged. “That’s what my son was, and it got him killed, but he saved others.”

We should honor Castillo and Howell, and others like them. We must remember them. We need to follow them. But, above all, we must not let their courage and their sacrifice be wasted in this war America is waging against itself.

And make no mistake: America is at war with itself. Since the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook, more than 140 people have died in school shootings in America. But, those are only a small portion of the shootings in this country.

In 2018 alone, there were more than 57,000 firearms-related incidents in America, resulting in almost 15,000 deaths, according to Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. We racked up 340 mass shootings — shootings with three or more victims — claiming 373 lives and 1,347 injured. So far in 2019, as of Wednesday evening, there have been 116 mass shootings, claiming 127 lives and 425 wounded.

Castillo and Howell bravely and selflessly threw their lives into the breach in this madness, laying down their lives to save others. We cannot overstate their courage. But, unfortunately, just as the lions of Gallwitz’s day were misled by lambs, the lives of brave American youth like Castillo and Howell are being squandered by self-interested politicians who remain willfully inept and cowardly in the face of our nation’s gun violence epidemic.

The reason for our so-called leaders’ ambivalence to the mounting body count is simple: They are motivated primarily by greed and ambition. And, when it comes to stoking the fires of self-interest for starry-eyed politicians, no one plays the game quite so well as the National Rifle Association.

In 2018, the NRA pumped more than $9 million into swaying elections to protect the corporate interests of the firearms industry and the cash cow of donors who actually still believe the NRA has any interest in constitutional liberties. In 2016, that sum came to more than $54 million.

All that money was spent for one reason, and one reason only: to prop up politicians who were willing to sell their virtue like cheap whores to the gun lobby, and to oppose any who placed the safety and well-being of American citizens above the NRA’s narrow interests. And, by and large, politicians of a particular party will take the coward’s way out, and turn a blind eye to the deaths of children, and of men like Castillo and Howell, rather than risk a loss at the polls.

Paul Rold, grandfather of the UNCC shooter, told The New York Times American legislators and voters need to start placing innocent lives above partisan interests.

“It could have been averted,” he said of the shooting his grandson perpetrated. “Our legislators have to value human life more than they do re-election.”

To all who will read this, throw up their hands, and say, “Well, what can be done,”’ Rold, who lives in that liberal bastion, Texas, offers some concrete advice.

“I want people to know that guns are too accessible,” Rold told the Times. “If people for whatever reason decide to do what he did, it should be next to impossible for them to get a weapon.”

We should listen to Mr. Rold. We should emulate Castillo and Howell. And we should honor their lives, and their deaths, by demanding our legislators place American lives above the cheap blood money they get from the NRA.

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