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In Texas, Many Believe Carrying Guns With Them Will Prevent The Next Massacre


Those who live around Sutherland Springs, Texas, may still be questioning why a gunman shot up a Baptist church during Sunday worship, but they're not at all confused about how citizens should respond. Many believe that the best way to stop the next massacre is to pack a pistol everywhere they go. NPR's John Burnett reports from Wilson County, which includes the rural Texas town.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: There's a sort of cowboy ethic that exists in Wilson County, Texas. A historical marker in front of the stately 19th-century courthouse describes the sheriff a century ago as always armed, but gentlemanly and kind. The current sheriff, Joe Tackitt Jr., has worn the badge for 25 years. In his white cowboy hat and white cowboy shirt, he pauses in the courthouse hallway to ruminate on the private citizen who grabbed a rifle and confronted Devin Patrick Kelley as he left the church where he killed 26 people. The citizen shot Kelley, who fled and later killed himself.

JOE TACKITT JR: I consider the man a hero. I mean, he ended the threat right there at the church. Now, do we know where the guy might have gone had he left the church? 'Cause he still had weapons.

BURNETT: There is no gun debate for many people who own weapons here in Wilson County. If there was, Sunday's massacre settled it. Only hours after the shooting, a retired oilfield hand named Ethan Campbell stood on the porch of his house a couple of blocks from the church in Sutherland Springs, cradling his infant son.

ETHAN CAMPBELL: In my opinion, everybody should carry a gun 'cause no matter what, a criminal's going to carry a gun if you don't. And if you've got a gun on you, you can at least protect yourself or your family.

BURNETT: Many people in the surrounding communities believe Sunday's massacre validated the NRA's position - it takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun. To get a countervailing view I reached out to Angela Turner, who lives in San Antonio 30 miles northwest of here. She works at a private school and volunteers for a group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

ANGELA TURNER: It just makes me sad that this is where the conversation has come, that we're talking about whether we need to arm ourselves to go to church and protect our kids when they're going to Sunday school when the conversation that we really should be having is how do we keep violent people from having a gun in the first place?

BURNETT: Nearly 6 percent of Texans have permits to carry guns with them in public. Texas is the state with the third-most permits in the nation after Florida and Pennsylvania. The sheriff reports that lots of his citizens pack pistols, people like Kaelyn Thompson, a 23-year-old waitress who works at Trail Riders Steakhouse in Floresville. She says she and her mom both have 9 mm handguns when they worship at their church. And she wonders whether things would have turned out differently if someone in the Sutherland Springs congregation had shot back.

KAELYN THOMPSON: I mean, I wasn't there, so I don't know the circumstances. But to me, if I'm going to die, I would like to least fight, you know? And I don't know why they didn't fight or why they didn't have a gun. Like, there are just so many crazy people out there and so many incidents that you never know when something's going to happen. But honestly, I carry everywhere I go.

BURNETT: Thompson says several friends and family have said now they plan to get right-to-carry permits. Roman Bolton is one of those considering keeping a concealed handgun on him. He's a clerk at a hardware store in La Vernia just up the highway from Sutherland Springs. Bolton says even before the recent shooting he has sat in his pew in his church on Sunday mornings and wondered...

ROMAN BOLTON: What if somebody comes in here now and he starts spraying the place? How long does it take a policeman to respond to something like that? Ten minutes is a long time.

BURNETT: A customer, Steve Stephenson, has brought his mower down to the shop to get it worked on. He listens intently to the discussion. I ask him if he thinks that more guns make for a safer society.

STEVE STEPHENSON: I don't know. What about the Old West? Was that a safe place? Everybody carried back then.

BURNETT: John Burnett, NPR News, Wilson County.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAJOR LAZER SONG, "KNOW NO BETTER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.