Dateline Sutherland Springs, Texas on Its Three Days of Fame

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Two weeks of American mass shootings, as of 11/3/17. The Los Vegas massacre comes 10 incidents beyond. Compiled by Gun Violence Archive

Boston MA, November 5th, 2017, 8 PM. Around 11 this morning another lone gunman struck. This time in the peaceable little community of Sutherland Springs, TX (pop. some 500 human souls), 25 miles southeast of San Antonio, in a Baptist church during a Sunday service.

By 6 PM, television and radio news networks were pre-empting regular content to cover breaking developments. In my TV media market, ABC led the charge, with an independent VHF station bravely following suit. No doubt, the 11 o’clock news will be about the S.S. Massacre virtually entirely, as it was for NPR’s All Things Considered late this afternoon. “Special coverage” then forced its way in to regurgitate what little was known.

As of now, 26 are known dead and 20 wounded of the 40 or so parishioners present this morning—perhaps half the congregation. By early this evening, the perp’s name (one Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, who had been cashiered from the Air Force) was being circulated, but not how he died in the aftermath. We know much of this primarily thanks to assiduous research by multiple correspondents to the Daily Beast.

I am dead sure that tonight many of the legions of reporters parachuting into the greater San Antonio area tonight will be rousing local, county and state officials from their sleep to ferret out data about Kelly and how and where he came to die. They will, of course, ask their respondents to speculate about a motive, but mostly that conversation is for news shows that will air tomorrow and the next day. After that, should no titillating answers be forthcoming, they will move on.

The FBI and ATF are already down there sniffing around. If by the close of business Wednesday they emit no whiff of conspiracy, Islamic or otherwise, the media will ramp down S.S. coverage to focus on whatever the disaster du jour (most likely Trump’s contemporaneous clownish encounter with Xi Jinping in Beijing) may be.

Just for a moment, let’s suppose that Sutherland Springs’ US Rep, Henry Cuellar (D TX-28), happened to attend that church service. Even if he emerged unscathed, you can bet that the investigation would straightaway be federalized, meaning that local officials would most probably demur if asked for details. It wouldn’t matter that none of the fatally shot victims had any connection to federal officialdom; the US DOJ would investigate, and its case would then subsume state and local law enforcement probes.

But since Henry Cuellar wasn’t there, the Feds probably won’t give a hoot about either the incident’s origins or its aftermath. That would surely disappoint the media, both for the apparent absence of conspiracy, because the shooting wasn’t racially motivated (white-on-white crimes being so commonplace as to be noncontroversial), and the shooter unfortunately wasn’t a Muslim, which will free them to finally get to the bottom of Russian influence on the 2016 election and cheer on World War Three.

One thing that might revive the media’s interest would be if the assault weapons used by the shooter were obtained illegally. That would get the gun control memes rolling and would make the NRA look better because no apologies or defensive maneuvers would be necessary. By buying guns through back channels, he broke the law; what else is there to say?

A major rationalization we hear from gun owners—after a desire to protect their property (what exactly they fear is rarely clear)—is that they enjoy target-shooting. Well, gosh Billy Bob, if that’s what you want a gun for, why don’t you own a bowling ball? As you can rent a ball (and bowling shoes) whenever you decide to bowl, why buy? Aren’t there target ranges that rent rifles and pistols along with ammo? If not, why not? Because rental hardware wouldn’t be spiffy enough, perhaps.

A good portion of the populace in Sutherland Springs probably count firearms among their possessions; this is Texas, after all. Now the NRA likes to tell us that the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to have a good guy with a gun on the scene. I reckon there were good guys in that Baptist church who, for whatever reasons, weren’t packing heat. That turned out to be a tragic lapse of judgment on their part that they will learn from. On Sundays to come, many survivors are sure to holster their Glocks into the hymnal pockets in front of them, and Lord save any shooter who comes to blaspheme the Savior’s message of peace and good will toward men.

If Molly Ivins—bless her soul—were still with us, she would remind us “I am not anti-gun. I’m pro-knife. Consider the merits of the knife. In the first place, you have to catch up with someone in order to stab him. A general substitution of knives for guns would promote physical fitness. We’d turn into a whole nation of great runners. Plus, knives don’t ricochet. And people are seldom killed while cleaning their knives.”

The senseless carnage grieves me. So too does our ghoulish appetite for details about it. Where’s our media’s appetite for intimate stories about civilian carnage in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine? Must be because only American lives matter.


November 6 2017, 8 PM: A 24-hour update (Blah-blah, I know, but but it’s actually pertinent): Ken Paxton, the Texas AG, said today that “this is going to happen again,” and so advised Texans to conceal-carry to church. He actually said that, and moreover let tell that “There’s no perfect solution to this … this is unsolvable in some ways, but there are ways to make it more likely that more people are gonna live.”

So, according to Paxton, the best solution is to arm everybody to the teeth, since the situation is now “unsolvable” (no thanks to the relaxation of gun controls in Texas and elsewhere at the behest of the second amendment lobby). Host Robert Seigel did his NPR best to get Paxton to acknowledge that a libertarian firearms culture was part of the problem, but Paxton (who’s not worried himself because his house of worship and he personally, presumably, is well-defended) told Seigel that’s where we’re at, so deal with it, never acknowledging the psychopathy that having a warm gun can engender in the nexus of kin.

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I’m an ex-this-and-that, including software developer, computer graphics researcher, geospatial analyst, market manager, and technical writer, who now writes full-time when not reading, running a household, foraging for edible mushrooms, pushing progressive politics, or volunteering fsomewhere. I live near Boston with my wife, daughter, two cats and two old cars.