In Sutherland Springs, a mass shooting draws desire for more — not fewer — guns

 In U.S.
Many of this small town’s residents had just learned, mostly by word of mouth, the names of the people slain or wounded at the First Baptist Church, and the horror unleashed by a gunman was too fresh for anyone to process fully. But one thing was emphatically clear Monday: These Texans weren’t about to embrace gun control.

This is a place where people carry firearms as routinely as they wear boots. They carry them out of sight, tucked in a waistband or in a pocket like a billfold. Or they carry them openly.

“There are lots of guns in the community. Most people own guns in Texas,” Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt said Monday. “But guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

The gun rights community has long had a favorite saying: The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. What happened Sunday offered for that community a resounding echo of their belief. A local man — described by officials as “our Texas hero” — who lives near First Baptist grabbed his own weapon and shot gunman Devin Patrick Kelley outside the church, forcing him to flee.

Media gather near the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Tex. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

Then the man, along with another resident, got in a vehicle and chased Kelley at high speeds. Kelley was found dead in his vehicle on the side of a road about 10 miles from the church. He had been hit twice — in the leg and the torso — and also had a self-inflected gunshot wound, according to his autopsy. The resident who shot Kelley did not answer his door, and a sheriff’s deputy said the family did not want people on the property.

The second resident, Johnnie Langendorff, described his actions as “act now, ask questions later.”

What some people were saying Monday was that the massacre could have been stopped sooner had the worshipers in the church been carrying. The attack could signal that a change is needed, said Brandy Johnson, 68, an evangelical minister who moved to Sutherland Springs a few months ago. Even in a church service in a one-stoplight town, someone should be tapped to be on the lookout for trouble, she said.

“I think there should be some designated watchers and some designated firearm carriers,” she said.

Johnson said she worked for many years for the Department of Homeland Security and was trained to be observant: “Look for the weird. Look for twitches. Look for nervousness.”

Two of Kevin Langford’s guns sit under his hat at his home in Sutherland Springs. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

Pastor A.T. Tor, 39, brought a group of worshipers from San Antonio, about 40 minutes away, and he saw this as a spiritual crisis rather than one involving powerful firearms.

“I don’t think this is a gun issue. I think it is a condition-of-the-heart issue,” he said. “If this was a gun issue, you’d have this way more. Think about how many people around here have guns. It is the person behind the gun.”

Resident Mike Jordan, 50, has a tattoo on the right side of his lower leg that he said embodies everything he stands for: two smoking 1847 Colt Walkers beneath a state of Texas, colored red, white and blue.

For rural Texans like Jordan, who grew up around guns, the weapons are not just symbols of self-reliance, they’re a way of life.

“At any given time, you might see me with an AR-15 on my shoulder walking in my neighborhood,” said Jordan, who estimated that he owns about 20 guns.

While the majority of Sutherland Springs residents don’t take advantage of the state’s liberal open-carry law, residents said, most people do carry concealed weapons, and most households own at least one weapon and usually several more. Seeing high-caliber weapons out in the open, especially if the muzzle is pointed down and the gun is strapped to the owner’s shoulder, doesn’t cause alarm.

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