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Kurt von Tillow’s final act was protecting his sister and his niece.

“My brother saved our lives basically,” Dee Ann Hyatt of Santa Rosa said by phone from Las Vegas, where her brother was among the victims, and the heroes, of the worst mass shooting in American history.

Hyatt was wounded by shrapnel. Her daughter was shot in the leg, Her brother suffered a fatal gunshot wound. In all, 58 people were killed and nearly 500 were wounded Sunday night by a gunman who turned a country music festival on the famed Las Vegas Strip into a war zone.

Stories of courage and tragedy are emerging as families mourn their losses and survivors recount 11 minutes of unfathomable terror.

Heather Gulish Melton, a physician who grew up in Sebastopol, lost her husband, Sonny, who was shot down while trying to carry her to safety.

Stacee Etcheber of Novato got separated from her husband, a San Francisco police officer who urged her to run while he stayed behind to help the wounded. She didn’t return to their hotel, and after searching hospitals, Vinnie Etcheber learned that his wife was among those killed.

Many other concertgoers provided first-aid or helped people find exits until police and firefighters arrived. The first-responders rushed in to protect the crowd, and good Samaritans drove people, most of them complete strangers, to hospitals where doctors and nurses worked round the clock to treat devastating wounds. Someone in a truck pulled down a barbed-wire fence, allowing Nadine Reyes and others to escape across the grounds of the Las Vegas airport.

These selfless acts of compassion and bravery are inspiring, even heroic.

We are, once again, amazed by the determination to survive even the worst horrors that people can inflict on one another.

Investigators still don’t know why Stephen Paddock smashed two windows in his 32nd floor suite at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino and rained gunfire on 22,000 people attending an outdoor music festival across the strip.

They do know that he brought a small arsenal into the hotel, including military-style assault rifles fitted with magnifying scopes and special stands to shoot with added stability as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Twelve of Paddock’s rifles were fitted with bump stocks — relatively inexpensive devices that allow a legal semiautomatic rifle to fire at a rate similar to a machine gun, substantially adding to the potential carnage.

Civilian ownership of automatic weapons has been tightly regulated in the United States since the 1930s, and for good reason. Even the National Rifle Association seems to be content with laws that require a strict background check, a license and registration of automatic weapons with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Yet it’s perfectly legal to convert a semiautomatic rifle into a de facto machine gun, using the same device that Paddock did with such deadly results.

California already bans bump stocks, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced federal legislation in 2013 to ban them in all 50 states, but her proposal never came up for a vote.

This year, Republicans moved to ease regulation of silencers, which are covered by the same law as machine guns. After the massacre in Las Vegas, some GOP senators said they would consider banning bump stocks, and Feinstein reintroduced her bill on Wednesday.

How many of Sunday’s heroes might still be alive if they hadn’t waited so long?

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