1. Think Before You Regulate

By Nicholas Coleman

Following the detestable shooting of a First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas — which killed 26 innocent individuals and injured numerous others — political and spiritual leaders have voiced solutions to the safety concerns of religious sanctuaries. One approach suggests confronting the impending threat of violence by permitting churchgoers to carry concealed firearms.

Before addressing the advantages of this approach, it is important to recognize and denounce immediate demands for policy amendments following horrific events. The foremost consideration for anyone is empathy and seeking ways to support the victims of a senseless act of violence.

Once the nation is allowed to grieve sufficiently, then it becomes time to address solutions, including the necessity for armed parishioners. Texas is one of the most gun-friendly states in the entire nation. Other than Florida, which has distributed about 1.3 million concealed carry permits, the Lone Star State is brimming with safety-minded individuals.

Admittedly, the regulatory processes that were meant to prevent the shooter — Devin Patrick Kelley — from purchasing a firearm failed. Court-martialed in 2012 on charges of assaulting his spouse and child, Kelley received a bad conduct discharge from the military and served confinement for 12 months. Sen. John Cornyn has already announced his intention to correct the regulatory issues legislatively.

When it came time to protecting First Baptist Church’s parishioners, it was a private citizen who confronted Kelley.

Stephen Willeford — a 55-year-old plumber — was at home near the church when he heard the nearby discharge of a firearm. Grabbing a rifle from his secured vault, Willeford rushed outside and ran into Kelley, subsequently firing and hitting the gunman before he scrambled away.

There is no uncertainty that Willeford saved numerous lives that day, which has prompted several other churches in Texas to recruit and train armed parishioners to attend worship services.

Speaking to reporters, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said, “We’ve had shootings at churches for forever. This is going to happen again. We need people in churches, either professional security or at least arming some of the parishioners or the congregation so that they can respond … when something like this happens again.”

While most churches in Texas are able to permit weapons, Utah is an different story.

Although the state allows individuals to concealed carry their firearms on college campuses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prohibits weapons on church premises. The LDS church is joined by the Jewish Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City, which underneath state law, has barred weapons from its property using religious exemptions.

Violation of either church’s policy is punishable by a fine of $750, which is enough to dissuade a lawful parishioner from bringing a firearm to their place of worship.

However, a rudimentary fine was not enough to dissuade the 147 church shootings that were tallied between 2006 and 2016. Including the shooting in Sutherland Springs, there have been approximately 174 incidents of violence at all places of worship in 2017.

These statistics are quite staggering, and they indicate the dire need for parishioners to protect themselves.

Religious spaces may indeed be “…dedicated for the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world,” as the LDS church writes, but violence does not account for the well-intentioned preferences of parishioners. Nor does violence preclude itself from entering universities, public spaces or elementary schools.

Although there is an element of autonomy, as the LDS church and Kol Ami Congregation are private institutions, both should recognize the importance of protecting members.

Underlining many of the tragic incidents that occur are not relaxed regulations that allow monstrous psychopaths to acquire firearms; instead, we must recognize and address mental healthcare in the United States.

The Utah Legislature has already taken several steps to prevent gun violence, which begin with establishing resources for those in need of mental support. Additionally, University of Utah Health has developed a website and mobile app called SafeUT, which gives the user direct access to a crisis counselor. The federal government should follow.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

2. Armed Parishioners Perpetuate Cycle

By Connor Richards

On the morning of Nov. 5, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley entered a church during Sunday services in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and shot and killed 26 people, including young children, in what is being called the worst mass shooting in Texas history.

Despite a documented troubled background, Kelley was able to purchase the firearms used in the shooting, including an assault rifle, legally.

Kelley’s public school records indicate he was suspended seven times and complained to a classmate about the medication he was taking.

In 2013, Kelley was accused of rape and sexual assault, although charges were never filed due to the investigation having “stalled sometime in October 2013 for reasons yet to be determined,” according to an ABC News article.

A year after that, he was charged with animal cruelty for beating
his dog.

In June 2012, when Kelley was 21, he escaped from Peak Behavioral Health Services, a hospital he was admitted to after being charged with assaulting his wife and infant stepson. A hospital employee advised El Paso police officers that Kelley “was attempting to carry out death threats” and “was a danger to himself and others.”

Kelley pled guilty to the assault charges, including an instance where he fractured his stepson’s skull, and he was convicted of domestic assault. Such a conviction should have restricted Kelley from purchasing firearms, but the United States Air Force failed to report the case to federal databases.

Rather than focusing on this alarming breach of federal law on behalf of the Air Force, the conversation in wake of the Texas shooting has primarily centered around the idea of armed bystanders.

When Kelley stepped out of the Sutherland Springs church after his killing spree, he was shot twice by an armed civilian; Kelley managed to escape to his vehicle and was chased by a group of citizens before shooting himself in the head and crashing his car.

When asked at a press conference in South Korea whether he would support stricter vetting of gun purchasers, President Donald Trump said, “If you did what you’re suggesting, there would have been no difference three days ago [when the Texas shooting occurred]. And you might not have had that very brave person who happened to have a gun or a rifle in his truck go out and shoot him and hit him and neutralize him.”

Ignoring that there was no one left in the church for Kelley to shoot and that the Sutherland Springs population is no greater than 600, the president added, “If he [the bystander] didn’t have a gun, instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxon cited the shooting as evidence that churches need more guns.

“We’ve had shootings at churches for forever. This is going to happen again,” Paxton said. “We need people in churches, either professional security or at least arming some of the parishioners or the congregation” so they can respond “when something like this happens again.”

In Utah, where 60 percent of the population identifies with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the question being posed is whether the Mormon church ought to rethink its prohibition of “lethal weapons” on church property.

“Churches are dedicated for the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world,” the church’s website, lds.org, states. “The carrying of lethal weapons, concealed or otherwise, within their walls is inappropriate except as required by officers of the law.”

The LDS church is right that places of worship are no place for lethal weapons. Suggesting that congregations should arm themselves in preparation for possible mass shootings is a reactionary, Band-Aid solution to a systemic problem. Brainstorming ways to chisel down death tolls is an unsuitable response to mass murder.

If we, as a nation, have just an ounce of empathy for the latest victims of America’s unique mass murder problem, we will address the lax regulatory measures that allowed a clinically dangerous Kelley to legally purchase assault weapons.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

2 COMMENTS

  1. Clearly, the solution to Sutherland’s problem came too late. But my wife’s out of town cousin, who was a house guest over Thanksgiving, reported that her church was now heavily protected by concealed carry congregants as well as rotating assignments of volunteers. Further, she told us the preacher reported that he’d been in touch with many other preachers who had implemented the same plan.

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