Bishop Pierre WhalonTexas Governor Rick Perry opined a few days ago [1] that, had moviegoers in Lafayette, Louisiana, been allowed to bring their guns into the theater, they could have stopped John Russell Houser when he opened fire on July 23, 2015. Similar sentiments were expressed when James Holmes started shooting in an Aurora, Colorado cinema, almost exactly three years before the Lafayette event.

Perry said that there should be no gun-free zones, including the church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine people were murdered on June 17. Properly-trained and vetted gun owners should be able to go anywhere with their weapons. The mentally ill like Houser should not have been able to get a gun, Perry said — the laws were not enforced.

It is true that mentally ill people are not allowed by law to purchase weapons. But guns are freely available in the United States, because gun control laws have large gaping loopholes. One can still purchase a weapon anonymously at gun shows. Or, as Adam Lanza did in Newtown, Connecticut, people can easily “borrow” from family and friends.

But to date, there have been very few incidents where a well-armed, well-trained citizenry, exercising their supposed right to bear arms, wherever and whenever, has stopped a mad killer in a crowded situation (97% of such events have not been ended by armed civilians [2]). Ask any police officer or soldier who has been in a real firefight whether things unfolded rationally. People aim poorly under stress, bullets ricochet, and better-armed shooters have a natural advantage. Also, civilians are not trained to overcome the natural aversion to shooting at another human being, a hesitation which could easily be fatal.

The point is that had people been armed in Lafayette, Charleston, or Newtown, or… or… (pick a recent massacre) against the killer, there could well have been even more casualties, not fewer.

Everyone has skin in this game, gun owners, hunters, gun control advocates — all of us. Strict gun control laws, applied across the board, will lower firearm fatalities. Better mental health care in our country is also a burning issue. Why does it take a Lafayette or Charleston to raise up how poorly the mentally ill receive treatment in the United States? Many health insurance policies offer little or no coverage for psychiatric treatment. Not to mention the prevalence of mental illness in our prisons, packed to the rafters with convicts who should not be there.[3]

The killing will never completely stop. But we do not have to suffer one more minute this intolerable ongoing slaughter. All that is needed is the will to do so.

[1] See http://edition.cnn.com/2015/07/26/politics/rick-perry-gun-free-zones-movie-theaters/

[2] https://leb.fbi.gov/2014/january/active-shooter-events-from-2000-to-2012

[3] See http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2014/04/01/mental-illness-in-americas-jails-and-prisons-toward-a-public-safetypublic-health-model/

The Rt. Rev. Pierre W. Whalon
Convocation of the Episcopal Churches in Europe