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Lessons from the Latest Texas Massacre

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On Sunday morning, November 5, 2017, another mass shooting occurred, this time during services at the First Baptist Church in the small, rural community of Sutherland Springs, Texas, not far from San Antonio. The shooter, 26-year-old Devin P. Kelley, appears to have had a grievance against his in-laws who belonged to the church and perhaps were expected to be in attendance. Thankfully, two local residents, one of them armed, stopped his rampage with gun fire and a car chase, which so far has left 26 dead and another 20 wounded. As investigators discover other details, we may know more of the motive of the shooter and the circumstances behind his actions. Nevertheless, it is not too early to learn lessons from this horrendous act.

The first lesson is that the first responders are not the police, firefighters, paramedics, disaster relief workers, or other government officials. The first responders are those at the scene of the event as it occurs, whether it is a shooting, hurricane, or other disaster. More often than not, they are the victims. After all, who are the first people at the scene of any crime if not the perpetrators and their intended victims? Therefore, as potential first responders, we must be prepared to deal with the unexpected actions of our fellow man and nature.

This brings us to the second lesson. In today’s environment, we must be armed and trained to defend ourselves, our families, and our neighbors. Whether the arms are weapons, food, water, generators, first aid training, etc., to survive a shooting or natural calamity, there is no excuse for not being prepared. It is incomprehensible that so many people in a rural Texas community, where firearms are as ubiquitous as automobiles, could attend church or any group function unarmed! The gunman apparently had plenty of time to change magazines several times, which would have made him vulnerable to an attack by one or more well armed worshipers. Apparently, the lesson of December 9th, 2007 at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO, was not taken to heart. There, an armed man came on the church’s property and began shooting, killing two people and wounding others. What stopped him was an armed parishioner in the church, Jeanne Assam, who carried a concealed pistol.

The third lesson comes from the actions of the two citizens, Stephen Willeford, and Johnnie Langendorff. Willeford, a competitive shooter, saw what was happening, grabbed his rifle, exchanged fire with Kelley wounding and forcing him to drop his rifle, and run to his vehicle for a getaway. Willeford then jumped into Langendorff”s pickup truck, and the chase was on. By the time law enforcement arrived, Kelley’s car had run off the road and Willeford stood nearby with his rifle trained on the killer’s vehicle. Kelley was by then deceased. Both the shooter and Willeford used AR-15 semi-automatic rifles in their exchange of fire. Willeford did two things correctly: he owned a weapon that was capable of dealing with the situation and he knew how to use it. As Los Angeles police found out in the North Hollywood shootout of February 28, 1997, you must have comparable or superior weapons and training to those of your opponents. Willeford had a comparable weapon and superior training.

The fourth lesson is that gun control laws don’t keep your safe, though gun-control proponents would have you believe otherwise. Despite conviction by court-martial in 2012 for assaults on his spouse and step-child, which resulted in a year in a military prison and a bad conduct discharge in 2014, Kelley passed a background check to legally purchase the firearm used in the attack, and to work as a security guard. (Somehow, he didn’t qualify for a concealed carry permit in Texas!) Gun control laws give a false sense of security. To depend on them to keep you safe is foolish and could prove fatal. We would all do well to learn the lessons of the Sutherland Springs massacre.

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    Benedict LaRosa is a historian and writer with undergraduate and graduate degrees in history from the U.S. Air Force Academy and Duke University, respectively.