Texas law protecting armed churchgoers debated after congregant kills gunman at Sunday service

Top Texas officials on Monday cited the actions of several armed churchgoers who subdued a gunman in their sanctuary this weekend as a model of how Americans should protect themselves from potential mass shooters.

The attack, after which two church members and the gunman were dead, came two years after the Texas legislature passed a law that authorized anyone with a concealed-carry license to bring their weapon into houses of worship. That law was a response to the 2017 attack on a church in Sutherland Springs that left 26 people dead before a local resident shot the gunman outside the church, forcing him to flee.

The shooter who attacked West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement on Sunday was killed by a single shot from church member Jack Wilson, a former reserve sheriff’s deputy and Army veteran. Wilson, who owns a shooting range in nearby Granbury, said he started training fellow members to be a part of the church’s volunteer security team when it launched after the Texas law passed.

If there is any church in this state, in America, that was prepared for this, it was this church,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) said at a news conference Monday. “They had done their training. And I think that you could see it in the results.”

He credited the new law with making the armed congregants’ quick responses possible, calling it a “model of what other churches and other places of business need to focus on” and saying that they saved the lives of manyin the crowd of more than 200 people.

President Trump weighed in Monday evening, tweeting that the attack “was over in 6 seconds thanks to the brave parishioners who acted to protect 242 fellow worshippers. Lives were saved by these heroes, and Texas laws allowing them to carry arms!”

But other state leaders took issue with Trump and Paxton’s interpretation of the incident. Former Texas congressman and onetime presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said the shooting was a reflection of the state’s lax gun-control measures.

Our representatives in Texas have left us open to these kinds of attacks,” he tweeted. “Time to change our representatives.”

Gun-control activists called out the rate of firearm-related homicides and suicides in the Texas, which ranks in the middle of the pack nationally for gun deaths, according to federal data.

If more guns and fewer gun laws made Texas safer, it would be the safest state in the US,” tweeted Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “Instead, it has high rates of gun suicide and homicide, and is home to 4 of the 10 deadliest mass shootings.”

The shooter, whom authorities identified as 43-year-old Keith Thomas Kinnunen, fatally shot two members of the church’s volunteer security team, both men in their 60s, during the Sunday service before Wilson fired back at him, officials said.

A video of the attack, captured by the church’s live-stream camera, shows the gunman sitting in a pew during the service before the shooting. He stands up and paces briefly before he speaks to another churchgoer and pulls a large gun from his coat. He then fires toward the man he spoke to, striking him and another man standing nearby, as other congregants scream and dive beneath the pews.

The video then shows a fourth man, apparently Wilson, shoot the gunman. At least four congregants with weapons raised rush toward the attacker, who had fallen to the ground.

The two victims were taken to a hospital but soon died of their injuries. The Texas Department of Public Safety identified the men as Anton Wallace, 64, of Fort Worth and Richard White, 67, of River Oaks.

The footage has since been removed from church YouTube page, though it continues to circulate through social media platforms.

The FBI is working with local and state authorities to investigate the shooting. Paxton said investigators are uncertain of the gunman’s motive and are still searching for people who knew the shooter. Kinnunen, who had previous convictions for assault, theft and possession of an illegal weapon, appeared to be “more of a loner.”

It is “probably going to be very difficult to determine what his motivations were, other than maybe mental illness,” Paxton said.

Authorities said Kinnunen may have been transient and appeared to have visited the church several times.

“Unfortunately, this country has seen so many of these that we’ve actually gotten used to it at this point,” Jeoff Williams, the regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told reporters Monday. “It’s tragic, and it’s a terrible situation, especially during the holiday season.”

A spokesperson for the West Freeway Church of Christ and senior minister Britt Farmer’s family declined Monday to address the shooting or the church’s security practices. It is unclear whether the church screens people who carry guns into the building.

The spokesman said church leaders would release a statement Monday night, after a prayer vigil for the victims.

Farmer recently self-published a work of fiction, set in Texas Hill Country, about an attack on the United States by Muslim terrorists — an event, he writes in the book’s introduction, that he hopes “never comes to pass, but, there is always that possibility.”

As the story begins, a group of Texas ranchers worry forebodingly about the presence of terrorists in the United States. Later, as an Islamic State flag is hoisted atop the Empire State Building, they are glad to have stockpiled guns and ammunition.

“ ‘Guns needed now,” the main character thinks as the crisis gets underway.

Before the new law, gun owners in Texas could not carry weapons into a house of worship without specific authorization from church leadership. The Sutherland Springs attack spurred Texas lawmakers in a Republican-controlled legislature to loosen the state’s gun laws so that they could do so more easily.

While there is no specific law that allows armed volunteers in places of worship, members of a congregation can use their concealed-carry license to protect their religious community, said South Texas College of Law Houston professor Josh Blackman.

Houses of worship and other businesses in Texas are still legally authorized to ban firearms on their premises. But in September, another law went into effect requiring a house of worship to post a sign stating it is opting out before it can prohibit licensed individuals from carrying weapons inside.

Trump’s Pile of Rubble

WASHINGTON — One of the most totemic pictures of the Obama era was a White House photo showing the president bowing to let a 5-year-old black boy touch his hair.

As Jackie Calmes reported in The Times, the boy, the son of a departing National Security Council staffer, had shyly told Barack Obama, “I want to know if my hair is just like yours.”

“Touch it, dude!” the president instructed the child.

It was a moment that summed up all the giddy dreams about race and modernity and a gleaming American future that propelled a freshman senator with an exotic name into office.

Now, one of the most totemic pictures of the Trump era has been tweeted by Melania from the El Paso hospital visited by the first couple amid the blood-dimmed tide of back-to-back gun massacres in Texas and Dayton.

The first lady is holding 2-month-old Paul Anchondo, whose parents, Jordan and Andre, died shielding him from a shooter who confessed to the police that he drove from his home in Allen, Tex., to El Paso to kill Mexicans with an AK-47-style rifle. A manifesto he posted on 8chan, an online forum that’s a haven for white nationalists, stated that he wanted to stop the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

President Trump, standing next to Melania and the baby in the picture, is grinning and giving a thumbs-up.

The infant’s uncle, Tito Anchondo, told reporters that he brought Paul to the hospital to meet Trump, while other victims refused to do so, because he wanted to tell the president about the pain of the family. His slain brother, he said, was a Trump supporter. He told The Washington Post that he felt consoled by Trump.

President Barack Obama in 2009 bent over so the son of a departing staff member could feel his hair.
CreditPete Souza/The White House

But still, there is something sickening about the photo. The picture of Obama with a child was luminous with hope and idealism. The one of Trump with a child was dark with pain and shattered ideals.

Devoid of empathy and humanity, Trump is mugging with an infant who will never know his parents. They were shot by a psychopath whose views echoed Trump’s dangerous and vile rants painting people with darker skin — like the baby’s father — as the enemy, an infestation and invasion aiming to take something away from real Americans. It is the same slimy chum thrown out by other Republicans, only more brutally direct and not limited to campaign season.

Even as we absorbed the grotesque image from the hospital, we had to watch the heart-rending footage of Hispanic children sobbing and stranded in Mississippi because their parents, many working at a chicken processing plant, had been rounded up by ICE.

The Post featured a disturbing headline on Monday about a new study: “Risk of Premature Birth Increased for Latinas After Trump’s Election.” The story said, “Researchers have begun to identify correlations between Trump’s election and worsening cardiovascular health, sleep problems, anxiety and stress, especially among Latinos in the United States.”

The shining city on a hill is an ugly pile of rubble.

Even on this most tragic of weeks for so many families, Trump was obsessing on himself, on his crowd size compared with Beto, and on whether he was getting enough obeisance from Ohio pols.

It defies one’s faith in the good sense and decency of America that we cannot stop the deluge of shooting rampages — even at a time of unprecedented weakness for the N.R.A. and the loathsome Wayne LaPierre, with the gun lobby awash in coup attempts and corruption.

Gun control has the aspect of an intractable problem when it is anything but. Inexplicably and abhorrently, we have decided to live with periodic human sacrifices. That became clear in 2012 in Newtown after the slaughter of the “beautiful babies,” as Joe Biden called the dead first graders. If that didn’t shock the soul enough to act, what could?

We’ve heard Trump talk about talking sense into N.R.A. officials three times now, during the 2016 campaign and after the Parkland shooting and again Friday after his sympathy calls in Dayton and El Paso. The first two times, he caved to the N.R.A. quickly.

Yet temperamentally, Nixon-to-China, Trump is suited to that job. Even though he’s a belligerent, he’s not so enamored of war and guns. “My sons love hunting,” he once tweeted. “I don’t.” He’s no gun nut; he’s a former Democrat from New York who likes to golf.

If he wanted to lead a crusade to get real background checks — or even a ban on assault weapons, which he said in a 2000 book that he favored — he would be formidable.

There is some movement now because the Republicans are scared — not of the shooters but of suburban voters.

For the most part, Republicans are gun owners and Democrats aren’t. But Republican voters are more supportive of common-sense gun control than elected members, who are wallowing with the swamp creatures at the N.R.A.

Mitch McConnell, Dr. No, won’t want to do anything; his spokesman was backing away on Friday. That same day, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, John Barrasso, pumped the brakes on possible inroads, background checks and red-flag laws.

If the president and Republicans come up with anything at all, it will be a remedy just marginal enough to give themselves cover, denying Democrats a powerful campaign issue.

Moscow Mitch and Dreadful Donald will keep talking compromise and hope that things settle down by September, when Congress gets back.

But point-blank: Our Republican leaders are cowards.

We shouldn’t let things die down. Because people keep dying.

How to Win an Argument About Guns

Tragically, predictably, infuriatingly, we’re again mourning a shooting — this time at YouTube’s headquarters — even as the drive for gun safety legislation has stalled in Washington. Polls show that nine out of 10 Americans favor basic steps like universal background checks before gun purchases, but the exceptions are the president and a majority in Congress.

Usually pundits toss out their own best arguments while ignoring the other side’s, but today I’m going to try something new and engage directly with the arguments made by gun advocates:

You liberals are in a panic over guns, but look at the numbers. Any one gun is less likely to kill a person than any one vehicle. But we’re not traumatized by cars, and we don’t try to ban them.

It’s true that any particular car is more likely to be involved in a fatality than any particular gun. But cars are actually a perfect example of the public health approach that we should apply to guns. We don’t ban cars, but we do work hard to take a dangerous product and regulate it to limit the damage.

We do that through seatbelts and airbags, through speed limits and highway barriers, through driver’s licenses and insurance requirements, through crackdowns on drunken driving and texting while driving. I once calculated that since 1921, we had reduced the auto fatality rate per 100 million miles driven by 95 percent.

Sure, we could have just said “cars don’t kill people, people kill people.” Or we could have said that it’s pointless to regulate cars because then bicyclists will just run each other down. Instead, we relied on evidence and data to reduce the carnage from cars. Why isn’t that a model for guns?

Because of the Second Amendment. The Constitution doesn’t protect vehicles, but it does protect my right to a gun.

Yes, but courts have found that the Second Amendment does not prevent sensible regulation (just as the First Amendment does not preclude laws on defamation). There is no constitutional objection to, say, universal background checks to obtain a gun. It’s crazy that 22 percent of guns are obtained without a check.

We all agree that there should be limits. No one argues that there is an individual right to own an antiaircraft gun. So the question isn’t whether firearms should all be sacrosanct but simply where we draw the line. When more Americans have died from guns just since 1970 (1.4 million) than in all the wars in American history (1.3 million), maybe it’s worth rethinking where that line should be.

Whoa! You’re inflating the gun violence numbers by including suicides. Almost two-thirds of those gun deaths are suicides, and the blunt reality is that if someone wants to kill himself, he’ll find a way. It’s not about guns.

Actually, that’s not true. Scholars have found that suicide barriers on bridges, for example, prevent jumpers and don’t lead to a significant increase in suicides elsewhere. Likewise, almost half of suicides in Britain used to be by asphyxiating oneself with gas from the oven, but when Britain switched to a less lethal oven gas the suicides by oven plummeted and there was little substitution by other methods. So it is about guns.

No, it’s more about our violent culture. The Swiss and Israelis have large numbers of firearms, and they don’t have our levels of gun violence.

Yes, there’s something to that. America has underlying social problems, and we need to address them with smarter economic and social policies. But we magnify the toll when we make it easy for troubled people to explode with AR-15s rather than with pocketknives.

You liberals freak out about guns. If you have a swimming pool or a bathtub, that’s more dangerous to neighborhood kids than a gun is. Kids under age 14 are much more likely to die from drowning than from firearms. So why this crusade against guns, but not against bathtubs and pools?

Your numbers are basically right, but only because young children routinely swim and take baths but don’t regularly encounter firearms. But look at the picture for the population as a whole: Over all, 3,600 Americans drown each year, while 36,000 die from guns (yes, including suicides). That’s one reason to be talking more about gun safety than about pool safety.

Note also that a backyard pool isn’t going to be used to mug a neighbor, or to invade a nearby school. Schools don’t have drills for an “active pool situation.” And while some 200,000 guns are stolen each year, it’s more difficult to steal a pool and use it for a violent purpose.

Moreover, we do try to make pools safer. Many jurisdictions require a permit for a pool, as well as a childproof fence around it with self-locking gates. If we have permits and safe storage requirements for pools, why not for guns? What’s wrong with trying to save lives?

Walmart Examines Role in Confronting Gun Violence

Employees circulate message calling for end to chain’s gun sales; retailer has no plans to change policies

Walmart Inc. ’s chief executive said he was rethinking the company’s role in confronting gun violence in the wake of two deadly shootings at Walmart stores, but didn’t offer specific plans or changes to its firearms and ammunition sales.

“We will work to understand the many important issues that arise from El Paso and Southaven, as well as those that have been raised in the broader national discussion around gun violence,” Doug McMillon wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday evening. “We will be thoughtful and deliberate in our responses.”

Mr. McMillon spent Tuesday in El Paso, Texas, meeting with Walmart employees who worked at the store where 22 people were killed in Saturday’s attack. Last week, in Southaven, Miss., a Walmart employee who had been suspended the previous weekend shot and killed two other workers at a company’s store.

His visit and Facebook message come as the retail giant is facing pressure from some employees and antigun activists to halt its sales of firearms or prohibit shoppers from carrying guns in stores.

Walmart is one of the country’s biggest sellers of guns. The retailer’s selection is focused on hunting rifles and shotguns. Since 2015, it hasn’t sold assault-style weapons and only sells handguns in Alaska. Last year, after a deadly shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., Walmart raised the minimum age to purchase guns or ammunition to 21.

“There are no plans at this time” to change policies around gun sales, Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said.

Two of the company’s workers in San Bruno, Calif., on Monday circulated a message to all e-commerce staff and the companywide Slack channel calling for a general strike to protest “Walmart’s profit from the sale of guns.”

Thomas Marshall, an e-commerce merchandiser in the corporate e-commerce office in California, and a co-worker later called for a walkout among corporate employees Wednesday afternoon and encouraged colleagues to sign an online petition asking Walmart to stop selling guns, allowing shoppers to carry guns in stores or donating to politicians with high ratings from the National Rifle Association.

On Tuesday afternoon, the company suspended Mr. Marshall’s and a co-worker’s access to its internal systems, he said. Managers told him they would restore access “on stipulation you will not use it for non-work activities,” the 23-year-old said in an interview.

Mr. Marshall said around 50 workers from the company’s California and New Jersey offices have sent messages of support. Some plan to protest the company’s gun policies Wednesday at 3 p.m. local time at its offices in San Bruno; Hoboken, N.J.; and in Portland, Ore., he said.

The company believes “there are more constructive ways for associates to offer feedback such as emails or conversations with leaders,” said Walmart’s Mr. Hargrove. The company will restore the two workers’ computer access when they return to work, Mr. Hargrove said.

Mr. Marshall said he still didn’t have access to the internal system as of Wednesday morning.

The debate is more evidence of the difficult balancing act Walmart navigates as it works to improve its reputation with shoppers and diversifies its workforce, adding offices around the country to attract more technology talent. The political divide in the country is increasingly pulling Walmart, the country’s largest retailer and largest private employer, into weighing in on social issues such as gay rights, immigration and gun violence.

Mr. McMillon has spoken out in support of creating an inclusive workplace and store environment, themes that he reiterated this week. “We are proud to be woven into the American fabric as a place for all people,” he wrote Tuesday. “We are more resolved than ever to foster an inclusive environment where all people are valued and welcomed.”

But any change to its gun policies risks alienating Walmart’s core customers, who often live in more conservative-leaning rural and suburban communities. The company faced some consumer backlash after raising the minimum age to purchase guns to 21.