Thursday, November 9, 2017

On guns and church in rural Texas

I've been slow in saying anything here on the blog about the shooting last Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, population 600.  But this interview with "Mike the Gun Guy" (Mike Weisser) on WBUR Boston provided irresistible fodder.  Mike had this to say about the prospects of an armed congregant being able to stop a gunman--and on the likely presence of guns at the church that morning:
First of all, the idea that in a small-town Baptist Church in rural Texas, that there weren't people in the church with guns, is absurd. And why nobody jumped up with a gun is because people aren't trained to do that. And if you're sitting in a church and you're praying and, you know, it's a moment of quiet and solitude and everything else, even if you've got a gun, and somebody comes in, opens the front door and starts blasting away, you're going to do what everybody does: You're going to hit the floor. The idea that the average citizen, even if he's had a little bit of — I don't want to call it training, just experience in using a gun, because it's not training — you don't get trained by just a little time at the range and having some guy tell you, 'OK, you know, point the gun here. Bang, bang, bang.' That's not training.
Lots of media accounts have described Sutherland Springs as "rural," and it is, of a sort.  I would say, more precisely, that it is an exurb, just 20 miles from downtown San Antonio.  The reason the assailant targeted this church:  his mother-in-law attended it, though she was not there on the morning of the shooting.

To recount the basics on this enormous and shocking tragedy, a 26-year-old man from New Braunfels, Texas (also in the greater San Antonio metropolitan area) who had been discharged from the Air Force for bad conduct stormed the church on Sunday, November 5, with a semi-automatic weapon.  He killed 26 people who ranged in age from infant to elderly, 24 of them inside the church.  The man had a history of domestic abuse, including having fractured the skull of his infant stepson several years ago when he was in the U.S. Air Force.  He was court martialed for that and for abuse of his wife.  He served 12 months on those charges, part of the time in a psychiatric hospital from which he escaped at one point.  If the Air Force had reported his conviction for domestic abuse to the salient database, the man would not have been able to buy a gun.  More on what we know about the shooter's mental state is here, including this quote from a former Air Force colleague, staff sergeant Jessika Edwards, who worked with the shooter near the end of his military career, in 2011:
“He was a dude on the edge,” Ms. Edwards added, noting that he would appear at informal squadron social functions in all black and a black trench coat. “This is not just in hindsight. He scared me at the time.”

Even after he left the military, he contacted her on Facebook with disturbing posts about his obsession with Dylann S. Roof, the Charleston mass murderer, and his target practices using dogs ordered online.

Ms. Edwards said the military had tried counseling and tough love, but nothing seemed to work. When punished for poor performance, Mr. Kelley would cry, scream and shake with rage, vowing to kill his superiors, she recalled. His temper was so unsettling that she warned others in the squadron to go easy on him or he was likely to come back and “shoot up the place.”

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