David J. Phillip/Associated Press
What if Devin Kelley was Sayfullo Saipov?
What if, instead of a disgruntled, disgraced American airman, the man who shot up a church in Texas, killing 26 men, women and children, was the disgruntled, unmoored Muslim immigrant who mowed down people in New York last week, leaving eight dead?
Would President Trump be so quick to say this was about mental illness? Who or what would he propose bombing in retaliation? There’s not much in Sutherland Springs, with a population of about 600, to hit back at.
As any honest, sentient human being knows, what happened in Texas, what now happens with alarming frequency, is — yes — about mental illness, but it’s also about guns. Any person, sane or insane, can buy a rifle like the Ruger that Devin Kelley used to slaughter human beings as they worshipped a God who must be wondering if He made a mistake when He gave us so much free will.
Blaming mental illness is a bit rich. Trump supported the congressional rollback of an Obama administration policy that made it harder for the mentally ill to buy guns legally. But that was, like, nine whole months ago.
The setting, a small white church in a dusty rural town, was shocking. The fact that it happened at all isn’t. There are too many unstable people in these United States with unfettered access to weapons whose only utilitarian purpose is to kill human beings.
Will this, the obscene slaughter of people exercising the right to worship — the very right that led to the creation of this country in the first place — change things?
Why would it?
If the wholesale slaughter of 20 children and six of their educators in a school in Connecticut didn’t change things, why would the slaughter of children with their parents in a church in Texas change anything?
If the wholesale slaughter of 58 people enjoying a country music concert in Las Vegas doesn’t change things, why would the wholesale murder and grievous wounding of almost the entire congregation of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs?
The Las Vegas shooting happened a month ago, and I had to go online to look up the shooter’s name because in that time I had forgotten it. A whole month.
Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter, was able to legally purchase several dozen military-style rifles in Nevada, Utah, California, and, yes, Texas. The federal agents who traced Paddock’s guns will now do the same in Devin Kelley’s case, as they do every time one of these mass shootings take place, and they take place so regularly it is hard to get back up on the outrage horse and say it has to stop.
Of course, it won’t stop. There are more guns in this country than people. The gun industry is a profitable, politically wired juggernaut, with more than half of the people in Congress so deeply in their pocket that it would take a total reworking of our political system for federal gun control to become a reality.
Bill Bratton, the most progressive police innovator of his generation, says we are chasing a chimera if we think episodic slaughters, especially in gun states like Texas and Nevada, are going to suddenly change cultures that have evolved over centuries, where guns are worshipped as much as God is.
Instead, he says, focus on local change, fashioning local ordinances and state laws that can address the madness of people like Stephen Paddock stockpiling caches of weapons with no one in authority knowing, the madness of gangsters like Whitey Bulger using gun shows to purchase more than 30 weapons without a background check, even while he was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
The man who fired back at Kelley, then jumped in Johnnie Langendorff’s pickup truck and chased Kelley down, most likely saved many lives. The bravery and selflessness of Langendorff and that man with the rifle will be properly recognized and honored. But it will also be seized as evidence by those who believe that if only more people in that church had carried guns with their Bibles the death toll might have been much less.
Such arguments are a distraction from the fact that Devin Kelley was able to obtain that military-style rifle and walk into the church in the first place.
As is always the case, in the aftermath of people being slaughtered by guns manufactured to do just that, there were calls for prayers for the victims. The governor in Texas and the state’s two senators asked for prayers, and President Trump invoked God, too, in a tweet from Japan.
But here’s the problem: the people who were murdered at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs didn’t need more prayers. They were praying when Devin Kelley walked into their church, a soldier’s weapon in his hands and God knows what in his mind.
Pray all you want, but if Sunday’s massacre in Texas showed anything, it is that prayers are no match for the weapons that any crazy person can buy as easy as a six-pack.
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