Lessons from the Texas Church Shooting

By the time you read this, there will be much more information available on last Sunday’s mass shooting in the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a town of only a few hundred people. Wearing what was described as “body armor,” the killer, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, burst into the church, walked to the front of the congregation and began firing, killing at least two dozen people, including young children, some at point-blank range.

Needless to say, the bodies were still warm when the anti-gun media immediately jumped on the issue to revive the gun control debate. But it soon came out that Stephen Willeford, a local plumber (and NRA instructor) who lived nearby, had heard gun shots coming from the church, grabbed his own gun and heroically engaged the killer. Ironically, Willeford used an “AR-style” rifle virtually identical to the one used by Kelley.

As Kelley left the church, he was confronted by Willeford. They exchanged gunfire, and it appeared Kelley was hit, as he dropped his rifle and took off in a vehicle he had left running. A second “Good Samaritan,” Johnnie Langendorff, pulled up and saw what was happening.

Langendorff said that Willeford came up to him and told him they had to catch the suspect. The men took off in Langendorff’s vehicle, and a high-speed pursuit ended when Kelley went off the road and stopped. Langendorff said that Willeford kept his rifle trained on Kelley until the police arrived.

As you know, we generally warn people not to pursue attackers once they retreat. But in this case, since the shooter could reasonably be presumed to still be armed, and therefore a threat to others, I would likely have done the same thing.

No surprise to most people, the shooter had a history of problems. A former classmate, who only wished to be identified as Reid, stated that “his [Kelley’s] parents had him on high doses of ‘psych’ meds from 6th to 9th grade, the time I knew him.”

Kelley had also served in the U.S. Air Force from 2010 until 2014. According to an Air Force spokesperson, he “was court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his wife and his child, and later received a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force, in addition to confinement for 12 months, and was reduced in rank.”

In addition, Kelley had been recently divorced, and his ex-wife’s parents did attend the First Baptist Church. There were also reports that Kelley had previously sent his ex-mother-in-law threatening messages. In any event, his former in-laws were not present in the church when the shooting took place.

But what can you and I take away from this case? Above all, such incidents underscore the importance of carrying wherever and whenever it is possible to do so. And your place of worship is no exception. Had someone, anyone, in that church been armed, he/she could have returned fire as soon as the attack began.

As history shows, when these cowards meet armed resistance, they frequently retreat or commit suicide. It happened in this case. But, unfortunately, as heroic as these two Good Samaritans were, they were simply too late.

Shortly after 9/11, a great friend of mine was approached by his rabbi, who asked him if he would consider bringing his gun when he attended services at the synagogue. He replied, “Rabbi, I’ve been carrying here at temple for 15 years…”

He still does…

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