Will concealed carry stop next Sutherland Springs slaughter in gun-toting Texas?
James Alan Fox
Published 10:55 a.m. ET Nov. 9, 2017
It is far
from clear whether Sunday morning cross fire would be safer for
churchgoers.. USA TODAY.
Like many Americans, I opened my Monday morning paper to find front page
coverage of yet another mass shooting. Alongside the headline about the 25
parishioners and one unborn child killed by an armed intruder wearing black
body armor and a Grim Reaper mask during a church service in Sutherland
Springs, Tex., was a graphic depicting a timeline of the 10 deadliest
shooting rampages in modern U.S. history. It was emphasized that half had
occurred during the past five years.
The graphic was silent on
another noteworthy pattern. Beginning with the 1966 tower shooting at the
University of Texas through Sunday's bloodshed, three had taken place in the
Lonestar State, where guns are as much a part of the local culture as
barbeque and Friday night high school football.
It is not just among
the list of very largest massacres that Texas is overrepresented. According
to the USA TODAY database of mass murders since 2006, 8 of the 50 shooting
rampages with at least six victims killed happened in Texas, more than in
any other state. This share of incidents is nearly twice the Lone Star
state's share of the U.S. population. Of course, the percentage of the
nation's gun owners living in Texas may be very different.
gun toting both concealed and open carry is commonplace. Except for such
venues as schools, courtrooms and airports, as well as locations bearing
prohibiting signage (e.g., the "no smoking" and "no smoking guns" alerts
posted at certain government buildings), duly licensed Texans are free to
exercise their Second Amendment rights broadly.
Of course, Texas law
wasn't always so permissive when it comes to gun carrying. Rules were more
restrictive in 1991 when the second Texas entry in the Top 10 timeline took
Suzanna Gratia Hupp helplessly watched her parents die along
with 21 others when 35-year-old assailant drove his pickup truck through the
plate glass window at the Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, and started firing
with a pair of semiautomatic pistols. Hupp reached for her purse to get her
gun, but quickly realized she didn't have it with her as state law
prohibited carrying guns concealed inside pocketbooks or clothing. Believing
that she could have stopped the slaughter had guns been allowed in
restaurants and other public places, this survivor became an outspoken and
forceful advocate for gun rights.
She was later elected to the Texas
legislature where she successfully pushed for expanded concealed carry
provisions. Part of the impetus for concealed carry in public places was the
1999 shooting at a Fort Worth church in which an intruder killed seven
Unfortunately, the right to carry a loaded weapon in
church did nothing to prevent Sunday's tragedy. Of course, the heroism of a
local resident who shot and chased Devin Kelley, the 26-year-old
perpetrator, has been praised, and rightly so. Yet that act of bravery
occurred after the assailant had fled the church and after the scores of
victims had been killed or injured.
What would have happened had
someone inside the church have had the weaponry and wherewithal to fire back
at Kelley is an open question. Whereas Kelley was prepared, including
wearing a bullet resistant vest, the congregation was caught by surprise.
Would someone have been able to intervene without adding to the bloodshed in
some wild shootout?
There are countless instances in which armed
citizens have successfully defended themselves or others when confronted by
an attacker wielding a gun. However, there are also cases, including dozens
of mass shootings, in which a person licensed to carry a concealed weapon
has used that firearm in an offensive, rather than defensive, manner.
Personally, I wouldn't feel more secure when eating at a restaurant or
praying in a house of worship knowing that those around me were armed. Most
gun owners are indeed trustworthy, but can we trust their aim and judgement
in a setting far different than a practice shooting range? Plus, it can be
difficult to distinguish the good guys with guns from the bad guy with a
gun, especially if the assailant isn't wearing some telltale mask.
James Alan Fox is the Lipman Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy
at Northeastern University and a member of the USA TODAY Board of
Contributors and co-author of Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass
Murder. Follow him on Twitter: @jamesalanfox