Stephen Willeford stopped Devin Patrick Kelley’s shooting spree in Texas.
Stephen Willeford stopped Devin Patrick Kelley’s shooting spree in Texas.

After Sunday’s tragic shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX, that left 26 dead and 20 wounded, Kathie Obradovich with The Des Moines Register wrote: “‘Good guys with guns’ rhetoric doesn’t save lives, it sells guns.”

I like Kathie, while I don’t always agree with her, I think she is fair. However, I was disappointed to read her opinion comparing ‘good guys with guns saves lives’ rhetoric to an advertising campaign.

I want to counter some of the claims she made in her piece.

1. Stephen Willeford saved lives.

Obradovich directs her comments at President Donald Trump’s statement that, “If he didn’t have a gun, instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead.”

Obradovich wrote, “First of all, there’s no evidence that the church gunman would have killed ‘hundreds more,’ as Trump claimed, if he hadn’t been wounded by the armed neighbor.  What we know is that the civilian intervention helped to halt the criminal’s escape. That’s certainly commendable, but it’s far short of preventing a senseless tragedy.”

I agree with this. There is not any evidence hundreds more would be saved because we do not have a clue what Kelley’s plans were after he was done at the church. There is no evidence that he would not have targeted anyone else either.

What I do know about the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs is that Willeford’s actions saved the lives of those who were wounded. His actions prevented Kelley from staying long enough to make sure everyone in that church was dead.

David Brown, son of Farida Brown, 73, who was one of the survivors of the shooting told CBS affiliate KENS-TV, his mom is alive today because of the actions of Stephen Willeford:

“Service was going as usual and next thing you know, they hear gunshots coming in from the outside windows,” David described. “Then the shooting comes in the back door. She’s on the very back pew, got a lady to her left, Sunday school teacher’s to her right. He yells, ‘Get on the floor!’

“Through what she’s told me, she only saw the guy’s boots walking around everywhere and hear him go row to row shooting people that were down on the ground for safety and cover. I just can’t imagine.”

He says that Farida watch the woman next to her die.

“The shooter was making his rounds and he ended up there and started shooting this lady multiple times. And the lady looked at my mom the whole time and my mom was looking at her, telling her, ‘it’s okay, you’re going to go to heaven,’” David said. “She knew it was her turn next to be shot and so she just started praying that God would take her soul to heaven.”

But then a miracle happened in the midst of the madness.

“Somebody with a gun was at the door, so he turned his focus off of her and went to deal with the guy with the gun at the door,” David said.

Rosanne Solis, another survivor, told San Antonio’s television station KSAT that Kelley cried out, “Everybody die!”

Kelley intended to kill every last person in that church, and Willeford stopped him from doing that.

2. Armed civilians are a deterrent.

Obradovich writes, “Perhaps Willeford could have prevented some of the deaths if he had been sitting in the Sunday service with a gun. In fact, the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, said just hours after the incident that churches should arm their parishioners. But it would truly be a miracle if the average civilian worshipper armed with a concealed handgun could stop a determined murderer with an AR-15 before anyone was killed.”

Having people armed inside a church is not the only solution. A well-thought-through security plan is needed. Ideally, the shooter never has the chance to make it inside the building before being confronted.     If there is no one paying attention to what is going on outside that sanctuary then, yes, someone probably will be wounded or killed before an armed church member can respond.

What is Obradovich’s alternative? Leave everyone as a sitting duck?

I don’t agree with calls for just anyone and everyone to come to church armed. I think churches should utilize law enforcement officers, former members of the military, and experienced carry permit holders who attend their church within their security plan. Also, training is crucial for those who help provide security for a church.

Those who have concealed handguns in the sanctuary can provide an element of surprise to a shooter who may not be expecting resistance which leads me to my next point.

The more likely a shooter will face armed resistance at a particular target, the less likely it will be chosen. Most mass shootings take place at soft targets: ones where there is little security and typically designated “gun free” zones.

While this does not directly correlate to mass shootings, Kennesaw, GA, provides a tangible example of gun ownership being a crime deterrent.

In 1982, the Atlanta suburb passed an ordinance requiring heads of households to have at least one firearm in the house. The residential burglary rate subsequently dropped 89% in Kennesaw, compared to a 10.4% drop in Georgia as a whole. Ten years later, the residential burglary rate in Kennesaw was still 72% lower than it had been in 1981, the year before the ordinance passed.

The ordinance was not compulsory, and it was never enforced. There were people who couldn’t afford a firearm and others who are not legally permitted to own one. The point here is not that every household had a firearm because they didn’t. Criminals, however, don’t know which household has a firearm and which one doesn’t.

3. “Good guys with a gun” do prevent homicides and other crime.

Obradovich made, what I believe to be, her most ridiculous claim when she wrote, “The ‘good guys’ fable doesn’t speak to preventing homicides, however. It only claims to mitigate the loss of life once someone has already opened fire. And even at that, the track record is poor.”

Her statement about responsible gun ownership preventing homicides is simply false. She then explicitly targeted mass shootings:

The fact is that out of 160 mass shootings documented by the FBI between 2000 and 2013, only five ended with civilians exchanging gunfire with the shooter. That’s just over 3 percent, compared with the 40 percent that ended with the shooter committing suicide and 28 percent by law enforcement shooting at the suspect.

How many of those shootings were in gun free zones? Probably the majority. How many law-abiding citizens would carry in a “gun free zone”? Slim to none (otherwise they wouldn’t be law-abiding would they). Also, the national media underreports crime prevention, including mass shootings, through armed citizens because there is rarely a news story unless there is a victim.

The Daily Caller News Foundation analyzed 195 random incidents where gun owners used firearms to save their lives or the lives of others:

Of the nearly 200 cases we analyzed, people carrying guns saved at least 283 potential victims, whether it was a man protecting his family from thugs or a 9mm-toting grandma warding off a burglar in her living room.

In 60 of those cases, the single gun carrier was the only potential victim. In 43 cases, there were 2 potential victims. In nine cases there were three victims and in nine more cases there were four or more victims.

In 74 cases, it was unknown how many potential victims were present but it can be assumed there was at least one.  If the 74 potential victims followed the same distribution as the other cases, then the number of potential victims would actually be at least 335.

The Washington Times after the Charleston shooting gave 11 examples where good guys with guns” saved lives. Eugene Volokh with The Washington Post gave several examples of people who are not police officers or off-duty or retired police officers preventing potential mass shootings.

Also, Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz discussed their 1995 National Self-Defense study in “Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense With a Gun” published in Northwestern University School of Law’s Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. They found then that firearms were used an average of 2.5 million times a year in self-defense.

Kleck in 2015 wrote for POLITICO Magazine defended his study and said that defensive gun use is still not a myth. Good guys and gals with guns do save lives.

4. Just because it’s hard to weed out bad guys doesn’t mean good guys shouldn’t be allowed to be armed.

Obradovich wrote, “The notion of arming more “good guys” is complicated by the fact that it’s awfully hard to weed out the bad guys.  This Kelley character reportedly beat his wife, knocked his kid in the head, abused his dog and still managed to legally purchase his firearms.”

So basically her argument is because some people slip through the cracks fewer people should own guns. That is nonsensical.

As far as Kelley is concerned, federal law already prohibited him from owning a weapon as Jacob Sullum at Reason points out.

Kelley, by contrast, showed clear signs of violent tendencies years before he opened fire on parishioners at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. As an airman in 2012, he was convicted of beating his wife and son by a general court martial, which punished him with 12 months of confinement, a reduction in rank, and a bad conduct discharge.

Under federal law, Kelley was triply disqualified from buying a gun: His assault on his wife was the equivalent of a misdemeanor involving domestic violence, his aggravated assault on his son was the equivalent of a felony, and his separation from the Air Force, since it was ordered by a general court martial, was the equivalent of a dishonorable discharge. But the Air Force did not report Kelley’s convictions to the National Crime Information Center, so they did not show up in the FBI’s background checks when he bought his weapons.

Regarding Kelley, existing gun laws and the system failed us. So the response is to discourage law-abiding citizens from purchasing more weapons?

5. Promoting self-protection is not selling death.

She concludes, “Guns kill far more people than they save. When the president and others use this horrific tragedy to promote ‘good guys with guns,’ what they’re really doing is selling more death.”

Let’s just look at the numbers here.

  • Pew Research Center says 3 in 10 American adults own a firearm and 4 in 10 say there is a firearm in their household. So blowing this up for comparison to CDC stats that’s 30,000 gun owners per  100,000 American adults and 40,000 live in a house with a firearm per 100,000 American adults.
  • According to the CDC mortality stats (whose latest stats are from 2014):
    • There are 3.5 firearm homicides per 100,000.
    • There are 6.7 firearm suicides per 100,000.
    • There are ten unintentional fall deaths per 100,000
    • There are 13.2 unintentional poisoning deaths per 100,000.
    • There are 10.6 unintentional traffic deaths per 100,000.

By Obradovich’s logic, we should also discourage people from being around heights, chemicals, and cars as well.


People have a God-given right to self-defense, and the 2nd Amendment protects that right. While gun ownership is not the only solution to gun homicide prevention, it is part of the solution. The recent shootings in Las Vegas, New York City, and in Texas have shown us that current gun control laws and proposed gun control measures would not have prevented those shootings. When federal law could have helped, it failed.

Obradovich, in her piece, did not offer any solutions only complaints, assumptions, and snark.


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