Armed law-abiding citizens are not considered the enemy in Texas

By now everyone knows about the citizen heroes that brought down the heinous Texas gunman that massacred 26 worshippers and wounded another 20 people as they attended church Sunday morning, resulting in the largest mass murder in Texas history. What has not been emphasized is that those numbers would have been much higher had the same thing happened in California, New York and several other states, as these states view their armed citizens as the enemy. In fact, anyone intervening to stop more mass killing by gunman Devin P. Kelley would have been breaking the law and would have been arrested in those states. The “Texas Massacre” should put an end to the argument that law-abiding citizens should be disarmed.

For people who have not heard this side of the story, a review of the facts should prove helpful. Devin Kelley drove to the out-of-the-way church to kill his mother-in-law and others with her, leaving his engine running and the car door open for a quick escape. Dressed in black body armor and armed with a semi-automatic AR-556 rifle, he first ran around the outside of the church, killing two people, before he paused briefly and entered the chapel, spraying the parishioners with bullets and shooting another 44 people. Victims ranged from ages 18 months old to 77 years old.

Neighbor Stephen Willeford 55, heard the gunshots and rushed forth with his AR-15 to confront the murderous gunman – ironically similar weapons were used for both evil and good. Shots were exchanged between Willeford and Kelley. Kelley received leg and torso wounds, which resulted in his ceasing the carnage and dropping his rifle before fleeing to his automobile.

A third man, Johnnie Lagendorff, stopped at the intersection near the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, noticed the exchanged gunfire and when confronted by Willeford to help, provided his truck to pursue Kelley. The 11-mile chase reached speeds of 95 mph before Kelley lost control of his vehicle and ran off the road. During the chase, Willeford and Lagendorff communicated with dispatchers. The two caught up with Kelley but not before he died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. He apparently did not die immediately from that action, and Willeford and Lagendorff held him at gunpoint until police arrived seven minutes later.

My point is that the shooter, Kelley, had three gunshot wounds; none received from police. The justification for their involvement, as expressed by truck driver Langendorff was that “It was the right thing to do,” and “Why wouldn’t you want to take him down?”

But “the right thing to do” in California or New York would have been considered illegal, and these men would have been arrested on a number of counts. Their response that “He just hurt so many people, and he just affected so many people’s lives” wouldn’t pass muster in many states.

Gun confiscators want more restrictions on gun ownership, but there were already laws that would have barred Kelley from purchasing his firearms had they been enforced. Kelley had been court-martialed for spousal and child abuse; the latter conviction was for fracturing the skull of his infant stepson and netted him a year behind bars. The Air Force had failed to record the conviction, so federal records did not have this information. The truth is laws only restrict the law abiding, and more laws do not increase the tendency of the lawless to be more law obedient.

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz had it right when he said, “The reason that the depraved gunman finally gave up and got in a car and fled and didn’t murder more is precisely because one individual demonstrated bravery and courage.”

When the people do not feel safe, there will be concealed weapons despite gun prohibiting signs – even in church. In Texas, a church is likely the only place where a mass shooting could occur because elsewhere the moment a gunman pulls his weapon 10 other people, also with weapons, stand ready to pull theirs.

In Texas, law enforcement shares the responsibility of public safety with their citizens, and citizens are expected to back up law enforcement when necessary. They recognize that no matter what the crime, unless law enforcement is already on the scene, which is very rare, there exists a few minutes when the criminal is able to have his way no matter what the law says. In states that treat their citizens as first responders in the absence of law enforcement, no criminal can be certain that he has any time to exercise his own will without immediate consequence. The enforcer may be in the vest of the person next to him not just on a policeman 5 miles away.

In states like California and New York who refuse to share these responsibilities, even criminalizing those who would assist them, criminals have no immediate deterrence and are warned by sirens from a distance when the police are nearing, enabling them time to escape. Citizens fear their own government and are far more reluctant to assist law enforcement. Far fewer would carry a weapon or threaten to use it, and virtually no one would shoot the criminal or follow him 11 miles. Thus these men are praised in Texas and arrested in California or New York. The natural consequence is that per capita there is more crime in gun restricted states than in less restricted states and a neighbor less willing to grab his gun and rush to save others from further slaughter in the church next door.

Dr. Harold Pease is a syndicated columnist and an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and to applying that knowledge to current events. He has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 30 years at Taft College. Newspapers have permission to publish this column. To read more of his weekly articles, visit

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