With the automatic caveat that early reports are often wrong, it appears that the man who attacked the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, was a dishonorably discharged veteran of the United States Air Force. If this report is accurate, he wasn’t permitted to legally own a firearm. As the ATF explains, the Gun Control Act prohibits any person who’s been “discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions” from shipping, transporting, receiving, or possessing a firearm or ammunition. The shooter apparently cared as much about the Gun Control Act as he cared for laws prohibiting murder.
While the Texas shooter was obviously able to fire on the church members long enough to commit one of the worst mass murders in American history, he appears to have been stopped by a good guy with a gun — a civilian who armed himself and engaged the shooter:
Official gives more details on Texas church shooting, says suspect was found deceased in vehicle https://t.co/HbYQAO9nHh
— NBC News (@NBCNews) November 5, 2017
According to the law-enforcement briefing, a resident engaged the shooter with his own gun, the shooter then dropped his rifle and tried to escape by car. He died in the car, but it was not clear (as of the time of this post) whether he died after being shot by the resident or whether he killed himself.
Already Twitter is erupting in furious arguments over gun control, concealed carry, and various pie-in-the-sky “solutions” to the problem of mass murder. The calls to “do something” will ring out once again, and if the past is any guide, the various gun-control proposals that will be put forward with maximum rage and sanctimony wouldn’t have stopped this — or any other — recent mass killing.
At the same time, however, while I’m extraordinarily grateful for the courage of the good guys with guns who’ve ultimately put a stop to multiple mass shootings — including this dreadful massacre — it’s not at all clear to me that good guys with guns present the answer to our troubles. They help, certainly, but they are not the cure for this national disease. If recent history teaches us anything, it’s that there is no reliable way to stop a man determined to commit mass murder. He can use guns, cars, trucks, fertilizer, or boxcutters to exact a terrible toll in human life.
Though there is no single answer, there is still effort. Individually, that means learning to how to use a weapon, carrying it, and remaining prepared to defend yourself and the people around you. Individually, that means if you see something, you say something. If a person is acting erratically or radicalizing in dangerous ways, then contact local law enforcement. Collectively, it’s difficult to identify effective prophylactic public policies. We have better answers for jihadists and other terrorists than we do for vengeful and evil men who lash out based on purely individual slights, real or imagined.
In the meantime, we once again mourn the dead, express thanks for the brave, and do our best to rationally seek answers in a nation beset by grief, anger, and division.
(Update: The Daily Beast is reporting that the shooter received a bad-conduct discharge — not a dishonorable discharge — after a domestic-violence conviction. The domestic-violence conviction would have also barred the shooter from possessing a firearm.)