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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

The officers who died were courageous. Now we need to have courage, too

Charlotte continues to mourn four law enforcement officers killed in a shootout here a week ago. WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson, in his "On My Mind" commentary, says that mourning comes with a duty.

The flags were at half-staff for days, and our hearts are still there.

You don’t really recover from having four law enforcement officers shot to death in your city. U.S. Marshal Deputy Thomas Weeks. State correction officers Sam Poloche and Alden Elliot. CMPD Officer Joshua Eyer. We’ll remember those names the way some of us still remember CMPD Officers Jeff Shelton and Sean Clark, who were killed in 2007 in an apartment building parking lot as they responded to a domestic violence call. The way some still remember Anthony Stancil, the Mecklenburg sheriff’s deputy who was moonlighting as security at a Harris Teeter when he was killed by a shoplifter in 1998.

We are a city of newcomers and transients but those names still linger, and the four officers killed last week have found an eternal place in Charlotte’s history. It is a time to mourn, and a time to appreciate the danger that law enforcement officers face every time they answer a call.

The men who died last Monday were courageous.

And now the burden of courage falls on the rest of us — to ask hard questions and do our best to answer them.

The most immediate question is about the shooter, Terry Clark Hughes, who was himself killed in the shootout. The marshal and other officers were there to serve a warrant because Hughes had failed to appear for court hearings on charges he racked up three years ago, including possession of a firearm by a felon.

Court records inspected by the Charlotte Observer showed that Hughes had faced 49 criminal charges since 2001. He never spent long in prison and most of the charges were dismissed. He didn’t appear to have a violent record before killing the officers, but otherwise, he fit the description of a career criminal. It’s worth wondering if the courts should have found a way to keep him off the streets before now.

A bigger question is about guns, and more specifically, the AR-15 rifle that was found inside the house. Police say Hughes fired more than 100 rounds before he was killed. He had the same type of rifle used in many mass shootings in America, including the Uvalde school shootings two years ago. They’re not used for hunting. They’re made to kill people. Police said their bulletproof vests aren’t able to stop the rounds from that kind of gun.

Hughes, as a felon, shouldn’t have been able to get a gun in the first place. But the gun lobby has been so powerful, and politicians so timid, that you or I can walk into a gun shop this morning and buy a rifle like the one used to kill the law enforcement officers.

These aren’t questions we should put aside while we are mourning. They are part of the mourning. They are part of what we owe the fallen — not just those officers, but the victims of so many mass shootings across this country.

And, to dig just a little deeper, we also owe something to those in other cases who have suffered from the improper use of police force. As we pay tribute to officers who died doing their duty, we should continue to make sure law enforcement is a force for good.

We have to be able to keep all those thoughts in our heads at once. It’s not simple and it’s not easy. But it is part of being an adult, and it is part of being a citizen in a democracy. There is work that needs to be done. And part of that work is paying homage to the four men who died protecting us.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.