Editor’s Note: James C. Moore is a communications consultant, political analyst, and author. He has been writing and reporting on Texas politics for the past 40 years. The views expressed here are the author’s. Read more opinion on CNN.
Nothing is ever as simple as good guy versus bad guy. Reality exists mostly in varying shades of gray.
But there is no question Jack Wilson acted heroically as a church volunteer security guard when he killed a killer in the sanctuary of the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas, on Sunday. Wilson, a deeply experienced firearms instructor, was legally carrying and took down a gunman with a single shot.
Are we relegated to finding solace in the fact that only three people died inside of a church in the latest tragedy, and must we seek comfort in the idea that six people felt a need to be armed as they worshiped? Is this really how we live in America? Of course, it’s foolish to think Texans weren’t already carrying guns into their churches; the gun is what won the West, and often still brings food to the table. But are we heading to a time where one worshiper has to whisper to the next, “Cover me, I’m going up to take communion?”
Wilson’s actions are being widely praised by anti-gun control voices and conservative politicians. The NRA, which has frequently argued that immediately after shooting incidents is not the time to talk about gun control, used Twitter a few hours after the church tragedy to suggest the potential mass killer may have been stopped because of changes to Texas gun laws.
We can assume, then, that if the outcome of a shooting incident is good for gun advocates, it is OK to talk immediately after the incident; especially when pointing out that bringing concealed weapons into the state’s places of worship was legalized after a 2017 massacre in another church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
But if Wilson is the example of a good guy with a gun who saved the day, what does the other armed parishioner who was killed represent? Will he become proof to gun control advocates that arming the well-intentioned doesn’t work? Analyses of the live-streamed video from the church are suggesting that several worshippers were armed and drew guns. One of them appears to have been killed as he reached for his weapon.
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, responded to the incident by citing statistics on Twitter that indicate 3,500 people died in Texas from guns; CDC data shows just over 3,500 such deaths in 2017 and the average is one victim every three hours in the state. Deaths, she pointed out, have increased between 2015 and 2017, the most recent year for which there is CDC data. Watts also pointed out that Texas has been home to four of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern US history.
But the number of Texas guns is mostly unknown because residents are not required to register their firearms, and you can assume a significant percentage of gun owners do not. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms says the state has 337,309 firearms but only knows that number from legal background checks. And that just spurs more questions after every public shooting.
Little has been reported about the suspect at White Settlement other than indications he has an arrest record, which will make some critics wonder how he got a gun. But it is not illegal to sell a gun to a felon in Texas, unless you know he is a felon, which he isn’t likely to tell you since he is a felon and wants a gun. If you think that’s absurd, sit down right now and try writing an enforceable law that prevents it. There are sufficient loopholes in firearms regulations and such an abundance of supply of weapons that anyone in America can get a gun, good guy or bad guy.
Maybe it’s just us. Americans might not have the will or the interest in undoing more than two-and-a-half centuries of a culture that emerged through the use of weapons. The words of the Constitution were backed up by a gun; Manifest Destiny was accomplished with bullets and saving the world from tyranny would have been impossible without men at arms, trained to kill. Even if guns beget more guns and more death, maybe nothing more than just their existence makes us feel safe and we are afraid to temper that emotion with more regulation.
There’s also an argument likely to drop deep roots in Texas that Jack Wilson’s single shot was an act of love. By taking out the killer, he saved the lives of the 240 other souls at worship that morning. Isn’t killing evil a loving act? That’s how Wilson himself described what he did.
The debate over guns has devolved to the point where statistics feel irrelevant and only context alters the discussion. The New York Times recently reported on a man married 60 years to a woman who was suffering with Alzheimer’s. He shot her in the back of the head as she slept, and then put the gun into his own mouth. Is this an act of love? Who has the authority to prevent him from getting a gun to end his wife’s suffering and his own? But what about the other question of morality, and who, if anyone, has the right to terminate another life?
Texas also has a sizable population of liberals with guns. They hunt, shoot skeet, go to the firing range and argue for gun control. They are not hypocrites. Their arguments are nuanced and thoughtful, and they know there is no simple answer to gun violence, but increased regulations are a part of the solution.
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Could be it’s just too damned late to change anything about who we are and how we live. And nothing will work. There’s little left to do but seek cover.
Or take dead aim.