As debate rages in Washington over what can be done to rid America of gun violence, a teacher in California who was faced with a firearm in his classroom this week has shown that straightforward calm, courage and common sense works best.
Ryan Heber was today being hailed as the quiet hero of Taft Union High School, 120 miles north of Los Angeles, which for a few moments on Thursday seemed set to become the next name on America’s lengthening list of gun violence atrocities. Happily, even though one student remains hospitalised, it did not.
Just as in Newtown, Connecticut, the trouble began at the start of the school day, when a 16-year-old student with a shotgun strode into Mr Heber’s science class, shot one pupil in the chest and fired at a second victim but missed. It was then that Mr Heber, his head grazed by a shotgun pellet, began talking to the shooter, quickly persuading him to lower his gun while everyone in the room was able to get out of harm’s way.
“If it weren’t for this teacher and a quick response, we don’t know,” Taft Sheriff Don Youngblood said, adding that at some point a campus supervisor helped to the calm the shooter down. “They talked him into putting the shotgun down. The heroics go without saying – to stand there and face someone who has a shotgun and has already shot a student, we’re very proud of the job they did.”
Officials said the victim with the chest wound was in critical condition and in an induced coma in a local hospital last night but was expected to survive. Police confirmed that the gunman, who remained in custody, may have been the victim of bullying and for that reason he had specific targets in mind. “Certainly the two people that he targeted had bullied him, in his mind,” Mr Youngblood said. “He knew what he was going to do.”
In Washington, the president of the National Rifle Association, David Keene, predicted that any proposal to outlaw the sale of assault rifles would fail to win enough political support. “I do not think that there’s going to be a ban on so-called assault weapons,” he told NBC News.
Bans both on assault rifles and the high-capacity magazines that allow them fire off tens of bullets at a time are expected to be the centrepiece of a package of measures that Vice President Joe Biden will submit to President Barack Obama next week.