Most Americans have heard of the attack on a small Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX, a town of some 400 souls Southeast of San Antonio on 11-05-17. As with all such attacks, news accounts are chaotic, likely mostly wrong, and as always, sensationalized. However, there are some things that appear, at this early point in the investigation, that may eventually be proved true.
The killer, who would very much want his name to be mentioned here, apparently 26 years old and white, was given a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force only a few years ago for beating his wife and child. He was also reportedly on medication for mental issues since middle school, perhaps earlier. Wearing pseudo-tactical clothing—all in black, of course—and wearing a ballistic vest of some sort, he shot two people outside the church, then entered and began shooting, apparently reloading more than once. Some 26 were killed, ranging in age from 18 months to 72, and some 20 were injured, including a two year-old, some of those critically. The killer is reported to have used an AR-15 pattern rifle.
An unidentified local resident, currently known as the Good Samaritan, engaged the killer with an AR-15 after he exited the church. Autopsy results indicate he hit the killer in the torso and leg, causing him to drop his gun and flee. Another local resident, Johnnie Langendorff, happened by, the Good Samaritan told him what happened, and both pursued the killer in Langendorff’s pickup, reaching speeds of 95 MPH before the killer went off the road and crashed, apparently dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. As is virtually always the case, it took the police from 5-7 minutes to reach the scene of the crash. It would doubtless have taken the police much longer had Langendorff and the Good Samaritan not been pursuing the killer, providing a running commentary of his actions and position. Also as usual, the police had no role in ending the massacre at the church.
Texas Governor Gregg Abbott has confirmed the killer was denied a Texas concealed carry permit, but was able to buy four guns in recent years, apparently because the Pentagon did not properly report his conviction/discharge status. As is also common in such cases, the killer’s motive remains unclear, though some accounts suggest his former in-laws may have attended the church, and he may have has a history of threatening his mother-in-law, though the in-laws were not present in the church at the time of the attack. Other accounts suggest he was not only an atheist, but was strident about his atheism on his Facebook page.
All honorable Americans are sickened by this act of unmitigated evil. All worry that this kind of cruelty is becoming a new normal.
In this article, I offer two lines of thought, the first, spiritual and caring. The second, practical, perhaps even political. I recommend, gentle readers, you consider the first today, and the second, perhaps a day or two later. There is time for the political at leisure. We have, individually and as a state and nation, more pressing needs.
There are millions throughout Texas and the nation offering prayers this day. They pray because they know they are not in control; we never are. They pray because they know prayer humbles them; it helps them put aside their egos, their self-image, their needs and frustrations, and helps them focus on the suffering and needs of others. Even though they don’t know those in need, all are children of God, and whether they know it or not, the millions of prayers given for them will comfort and strengthen them.
The humbled pray for the souls of the dead, and they pray for the healing–physical and emotional–of those wounded. They pray for the families of the dead and wounded, that they may one day know the peace that passeth all understanding.
They pray for the angry, the self-righteous that mock them, that seek hope and understanding in politics, in government, in all-too fallible, fallen politicians. They pray that they will understand that only changing the hearts of men can prevent such atrocities. They pray that they too will one day know the power of prayer and the love and grace of God. They pray, as I often pray, that God will use us for his purposes, for our understanding is not God’s understanding. Our desires are not His. We live and react to circumstances, trusting in His guidance, but more, trusting in eternal life in Him.
Some mock God, saying he did not stop the killer, that he allows, even causes, atrocities. I’ll not approach the theological arguments, but merely observe, with my far from insightful understanding, that perhaps God did stop the killer. Perhaps he put a good Samaritan, a plumber and a good shot, there. You see, gentle readers, I often pray that God will introduce me to the people I need to meet, and the people that need to meet me. I pray that if I find myself in a situation like that facing the people of that little church in that little Texas town, He will give me wisdom, and make me fast, accurate and deadly, not to glorify myself, but that I might do His will and help others. Do I know God put that man where he needed to be? Of course not; none know the ineffable mind of God. But I know God does such things. I’ve seen it, and I am alive today, many times over, because of His grace and miracles.
We are asked for our love, for God, for our neighbors, and for those who need it more than they ever imagined they would, in a small Texas town. It is so little to give, yet, ultimately, it is all.
This, gentle readers, may be a good time to stop, for a day, perhaps two, and return for the rest when you’ve had the chance to contribute.
I cannot offer well-informed, absolute commentary on this incident; we know too little at the moment. However, here are a few initial observations:
Evil exists. Psychopaths and sociopaths walk among us every day, biding their time, awaiting their chance. They sit near us in theaters, pass us on sidewalks, live down the block. Sometimes we recognize something is odd, wrong, about such people. Mostly, we do not.
Evil is unremarkable. Seldom do we recognize the evil among us until it has done damage. It is not a failure to adhere to a particular political ideology. It is not inspired by some failing of society. Government cannot, through entitlements or limiting the freedom of others, prevent its violence. Its motivations go far more deeply into the darkest recesses of the human soul.
Contemporary shooters are not interested in talk. They do not seek short-term political or personal goals, such as the release of a friend or relative from prison. Negotiators are superfluous; they will have no role, because the killing will be done long before the police can arrive, long before a SWAT team can assemble and plan. Such people are interested only in killing and the infamy it will provide.
Gun control nags will use this incident to make their usual demands. They will see the use of an AR-15 pattern rifle as fuel for their anti-liberty fire, a fire with which they would disarm the law abiding and deny Americans their right and ability to defend themselves and those they love. Because the AR-15 pattern rifle is the most common and popular rifle in America, we can expect that when killers choose a rifle for their attacks, the AR-15 is more likely to be used than other types of rifle. It is, however, interesting to note this attack was stopped by a good guy with an AR-15.
Anti-liberty proponents will also scream for the banning of “high capacity magazines.” Apparently the killer reloaded more than once. The 30 round magazines standard to the type are not inherently more dangerous than lower capacity magazines. The Virginia Tech killer committed his massacre with two common handguns, including a .22 of only 10 round capacity. Magazines can be changed in 1-5 seconds. Magazine capacity is essentially irrelevant.
No gun control law will stop such killers. Why would anyone plotting mass murder obey any lesser law? Such laws are feel good measures. Feel good measures always yield to bullets, hurtling trucks, explosives, edged weapons and even blunt instruments.
We are solely responsible for our safety, and the safety of those we love. The police have no legal obligation to protect anyone, nor can they guarantee the safety of anyone. In outrages such as the church attack, they will virtually always arrive only in time to help tend to the wounded and to begin an investigation.
Gun-free zones are deadly, and churches are uniquely vulnerable. They all feature choke points, areas by which everyone must enter and exit, normally the front door of the sanctuary. There is little or no cover or concealment for potential victims, and virtually always, their backs are to the choke point/door. Seated in pews or neat rows of chairs, they are arrayed like targets on a range, neatly spaced, easy to target.
Church authorities are often anti-gun, or harbor the delusion that because churches are places of peace, they are safe, so parishioners must be disarmed. Concealed weapons, to their way of thinking, disturb the atmosphere of a church. Disarming parishioners only makes them easy targets. The threat is never the law-abiding and peaceful.
Churches are much more likely to be future targets. The 24/7 media coverage of this attack, and prior attacks, helps to ensure that. Church attacks in the last decade have generally met with success, success measured by large body counts. Psychopaths have surely taken notice of this. What better place to be sure no one can resist? What better expression of evil, what better statement than slaying the righteous in their place of worship? What better way to spit in the face of man and God? What better way to earn infamy?
The only thing that will stop a killer with a gun is a good guy with a gun, as innumerable incidents have proved. A prominent example is the 2007 attack on a Colorado Springs church, where two were killed and two injured. As the killer entered the church, Jeanne Assam, a 42 year old woman and voluntary security guard for the church, shot and immediately stopped the killer, saving innumerable lives.
Every church must take positive, effective steps to protect their congregations. There are obvious steps, such as locking doors, man trap vestibules, video cameras, and other measures, that can help. Some suggest armed security guards everywhere people are vulnerable, but the only truly effective means of saving lives is not only to allow concealed carry, but to ensure more than one parishioner at each service is armed. Designated, plainclothes volunteer, armed security personnel are also an excellent idea. There is simply not enough money to pay armed, professional security wherever they might possibly be needed, but willing, armed citizens can be everywhere at no cost.
Unfortunately, as is true with schools, many church authorities will resist these measures. They want easy access to their churches, and are far more concerned with feelings and atmosphere, with making the right statements, than actual safety. Texas does allow concealed carry in church, unless the church informs its parishioners it’s forbidden. We don’t know if that was true in this case.
Politicians do not give us unalienable rights, nor can they legitimately take them away. If we do not have the right to self-defense, if we do not have the right to the weapons best suited to defend our lives, what other right matters? In such a state, we are prey, subject to the whims of politicians and the evil, our lives forfeit to the designs of madmen, madmen sufficiently sane to choose their targets with care, ensuring they will face no effective opposition.
There are many churches. Why attend a church with merely rhetorical concern for life?
This particular attack may turn out to be no more than the pathology of an abject loser, a pathetic being with no prospects in life and a raging hatred for the forces he believed kept him from the acclaim he deserved. Perhaps this weakened him and allowed evil to take hold, to carry his narcissistic, destructive urges into a final paroxysm of blood and anguish. Some times there is no more motivation than that the killer wanted to do it, and enjoyed it.
If these attacks are the new normal, and I fear they are, failing to adapt to reality will only result in higher body counts. Unless, that is, we stop pretending a place is safe because the easily deluded say it is, and unless there are rational Americans there to deter, and if necessary, to stop evil. It’s true one’s odds of being the victim of such an attack are low, but there is nothing preventing them, anywhere and any time. The odds will always fall against someone.