More American Carnage

It’s too soon to comment in any detail about what happened at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival Sunday night in Las Vegas. There’s too much we don’t yet know, and too much of what has already been reported doesn’t add up. But it’s clear that what President Trump has called “American carnage” is continuing its pitiless, remorseless path.

It’s clear, too, that Americans are at loggerheads as to what can be done about it. Just look at social media. If anything could be more horrifying than the blood on the Las Vegas Strip, it’s the blood in too many Americans’ eyes when they look at one another. Consider, among many examples, the CBS executive who denounced “Repugs” in the wake of the shooting and added, “I’m actually not even sympathetic [because] country music fans often are Republican gun toters.” (The CBS exec has since been fired.)

Not to be outdone, erstwhile Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton felt compelled to add her opinion, in the spirit of Rahm Emanuel’s advice never to “let a serious crisis go to waste.” Sadly, as is too often the case in these incidents, Clinton saw the Vegas shooting as another opportunity to rehash on her standard talking points on gun control, Republicans, and the National Rifle Association.

Unfortunately, she forgot to do her homework. Silencers aren’t the issue. In this instance, the kind of silencer Clinton fears the NRA is making “easier to get” would have melted. So her attempt to politicize the situation failed.

Remember Luby’s Cafeteria
What remains, however, is that fewer and fewer of us can say we haven’t been touched personally by what John Calvin called “the wicked” who “roam about massacring and slaughtering.” I’m not among that happy few. I was in Killeen, Texas, in 1991, the day a young man with what might be called relationship issues crashed his truck into Luby’s Cafeteria, climbed out of the wreck and started shooting people. He pulled the trigger over and over again. He called women “bitch” as he shot them. “This is payback day” he shouted, asking, “Is it worth it? Tell me, is it worth it?”

Among those in Luby’s that day was Al Gratia, who had sat down with his wife and daughter for a nice family meal. “I gotta do something,” Al Gratia said. “This guy is going to kill everyone in here.” So Al went at the killer with a table knife and was shot in the chest. His daughter, Suzanna Gratia Hupp, survived the massacre, but wife Ursula did not; she was one of the gunman’s last victims, shot in the head as she cradled her dying husband in her lap.

The Killeen massacre left 23 people dead. It was the worst mass shooting in living memory up to that time. Now it’s in fifth place, behind Sandy Hook (26 killed, 2012), Virginia Tech (32 killed, 2007), Orlando (49 killed, 2016), and Las Vegas (58 killed and counting).

I won’t write the Killeen gunman’s name; I’ll only say that years later, viewing a picture of the lead hijacker from 9/11, I recognized him: the same dead eyes, the same joyless visage.

Al and Ursula Gratia would have remained nameless to the wider world, except that their daughter became a crusader for concealed-carry laws. She told Texas legislators and anyone else who would listen that she could have put a quick end to the massacre. Had it been legal to carry a gun in her purse, Hupp said, she’d have had one with her instead of leaving it out in her car where it was of no use.

All states have some kind of concealed-carry law now, but Suzanna Hupp is still worried. What about the “gun-free zones” that exist all over the place: churches, school and college campuses, federal facilities, etc., etc.? “The sign of a gun with a slash through it is like a neon sign for gunmen,” she told one reporter. What it tells them, Hupp said, is: “We’re unarmed. Come kill us.”

What Happened in Antioch
One of those gun-free zones, a church in Antioch, Tennessee, was in the news recently. Several people were shot, but only one was killed. Credit for that belongs to the courageous actions of church usher Robert Engle, who, though unarmed, confronted the shooter. Their struggle ended with both men wounded and a suspect, Emanuel Kidega Samson, in custody.

Samson is said to have been seeking revenge for a previous church massacre in Charleston, S.C. The races in the two cases are reversed, but (in contrast to Engle) both have the same dead eyes and joyless visage as the killers we’ve seen before.

Unlike the massacres in Killeen and in Charleston, the Antioch shooting hasn’t received much media attention, and there are several reasons for that. First, fatality was low. Richard Speck is a name that still inspires horror and revulsion, more than 50 years after he killed eight student nurses in Chicago. But now that we’ve endured decades of ever more frequent and deadly massacres, those who aspire to mass-murder notoriety must think bigger. They must think of Las Vegas.

Secondly, the Antioch shooting doesn’t advance any item on the Left’s agenda. The fact that Engle, after struggling with the shooter, was able to fetch a gun from his car and hold it on the man until police arrived, works more against the idea of gun control than for it. And the fact that the accused is black makes the attack ineligible as an example of “white supremacist” malevolence with which to belabor President Trump.

Finally, since Samson, though an immigrant from Sudan, is not a Muslim terrorist (he once had even attended that Antioch church), the shooting offers liberals no opportunity to warn everyone against “anti-Muslim backlash,” which they surely would be doing had the shooter cried “Allahu Akbar” before opening fire.

The Greater Threat
The latest outrage may have us stymied on all sides. Though the Las Vegas shooter was certainly doing the devil’s work, and although ISIS was quick to claim him, he appears to have been no more a Muslim terrorist than Samson was. As for concealed carry, having everyone in that Las Vegas crowd armed and ready to shoot back would have been of little use against a sniper firing from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay. Worse, a multitude of armed people at the scene would have been a big challenge to the police officers who flooded the zone soon after the massacre began.

On the other hand, the first such sniper attack in U.S. history—the one perpetrated by Charles Whitman in 1966 at the University of Texas—did see civilians retrieving rifles from their vehicles and firing back at Whitman’s clocktower perch. None of their rounds hit him, but they may have made him duck a few times and lose the chance to pick off more victims. At any rate, it should do something for Americans’ self-respect to know there were some brave souls who were ready and able to fight back on that fatal day in Austin.

On balance, the lessons to be drawn from these horrible events are these: Concealed-carry laws are good, “gun-free zones” are worse than futile, and—even more than any act of isolated madmen—the hatred, fear, and loathing that too many Americans display for their fellow citizens threaten to bring our country to ruin.

And, one final word: All of us, armed or not, should be prepared to lay down our lives at any time for the sake of family, friends, and neighbors.


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About Karl Spence

Karl Spence is a retired journalist living in San Antonio. His work has appeared in National Review, the Chattanooga Free Press, American Thinker and at www.fairamendment.us.