Less than three hours after the tragedy at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) was looking to score political points. As is his custom, Murphy fired off a tweet admonishing his colleagues for their refusal to submit to the gun control lobby’s agenda. However, in the following hours, as more information about the shooting became available, it became clear the event didn’t fit so neatly into Murphy’s preconceived anti-gun narrative.
Reports began to come out that an armed citizen, later identified as NRA Member and former NRA Instructor Stephen Willeford, had engaged the shooter with his own firearm, prompting the killer to flee the scene. With little information and no qualms about denigrating the brave actions of an American hero, the omniscient Murphy tweeted, “Let's be clear - nobody ‘stopped’ this shooting...” At the time Willeford engaged the shooter, there were at least 20 people still alive inside the church. A heart-rending account provided to the Washington Post by David Brown, son of wounded churchgoer Farida Brown, made clear that Farida Brown feared the shooter was not finished killing when Willeford came on the scene.
Murphy’s attempt to dismiss Willeford’s courageous response to the shooting is in keeping with gun control advocates’ longstanding messaging efforts and shows the depths anti-gun activists will sink to bury the facts. According to these gun-control proponents, good guys with guns don’t stop bad guys with guns.
In order to justify this position, gun control activists ignore cases where armed civilians have put a halt to mass violence. Like a perverse Goldilocks, gun controllers will discount cases where a criminal was stopped before they were able to carry out sufficient carnage, and, as in the case of the shooting in Southerland Springs, dismiss a case where the killer was able to exact significant violence before an armed citizen could arrive.
When you look past gun control advocates and much of the media’s biased filtering, there are a number of documented cases where armed citizens have confronted these types of killers and likely saved lives. Here are just a handful:
On August 1, 1966, a madman went to the observation deck of the University of Texas at Austin Tower and began firing at those on the ground, eventually killing 14. During the shooting, several citizens retrieved their personal firearms and returned fire. According to a university effort to compile a complete historical record of the incident, “The ground fire did pin down Whitman, most likely keeping him from killing more people.” One eyewitness told Texas Monthly in 2006, “It seemed like every other guy had a rifle. There was a sort of cowboy atmosphere, this ‘Let’s get him’ spirit.”
On January 16, 2002, a disgruntled former student returned to Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va. and shot two school officials. According to an account from student Tracy Bridges printed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, he and fellow student Michael Gross retrieved firearms from their vehicles and went to confront the shooter. Along with two other students, Bridges and Gross were able to subdue the killer until police could arrive. In his book, The Bias Against Guns, Economist John Lott pointed out that “out of 208 news stories (from a computerized Nexis-Lexis search) in the week after the event, just four stories mentioned that the students who stopped the attack had guns.”
On December 9, 2007, a man entered the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo. after having killed two people earlier in day at a Christian center in Arvada, Colo. The killer was met by volunteer armed church security guard Jeanne Assam. Describing her actions, Assam said, “I took cover. I identified myself. I engaged him. I took him down.” Following the incident, Church Pastor Brady Boyd called Assam a hero and explained, “Three people are needlessly dead, but many more lives could have been lost.”
On April 17, 2015, a man fired into a crowd of people in Chicago’s Logan Square. John Hendricks, an Uber driver and Right-to-Carry permit holder, drew a handgun and shot the assailant, who collapsed onto the sidewalk. Recalling his experience for the Chicago Tribune, Hendricks explained, “There was a threat to me and I helped somebody in the process as well… It's a positive feeling.”
On May 5, 2015, a deranged man drove into the parking lot of a fire station in New Holland, S.C. According to a report from WIS-TV, several children and firefighters were in the lot. The man then exited his vehicle with a firearm and shot into the air and at his own automobile. Firefighter Gary Knoll and one of his colleagues, both Right-to-Carry permit holders, drew firearms and confronted the man. Knoll and his colleagues were able to disarm the man and detain him until police could arrive. Speaking to the local media about the importance of exercising the Right-to-Carry, Knoll said, “It saved a life, if not multiple.”
On May 3, 2017, a man entered the Zona Caliente sports bar in Arlington, Texas, began speaking incoherently, and opened fire. At the time of the shooting, there were more than a dozen people inside the restaurant. A patron, who was also a Right-to-Carry permit holder, shot and killed the shooter, ending the incident. Arlington Police Spokesman Christopher Cook told the Dallas Morning News that the armed citizen was a “hero,” and noted that he “prevented further loss of life.”
In an interview with NRA, Willeford recalled the moment when he became aware of the gunfire at the church and said, “I kept hearing those shots and I knew every shot might be representing another person getting hit by a bullet.” Acting as fast as he could, Willeford retrieved his rifle, grabbed a handful of ammunition, and raced out his door barefoot towards the church. Anyone who has seen the NRA video, or Willeford’s other interviews, can see the anguish of a man who wishes he could have done even more to protect his community. Maybe Willeford’s heroic response wasn’t enough for Murphy to consider him a good guy with a gun, but the survivors in Sutherland Springs and the decent portion of America likely disagree.