Courage and capability

Posted: November 10, 2017 at 2:01 a.m.

How much courage do you have? It's hard to say.

Many people who display courage in the most dangerous situations later say they were terrified.

That's exactly what Stephen Willeford said after he armed himself and rushed to confront the shooter at a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church last Sunday.

He credited God with leading him to do "what needed to be done." None of us can really know in advance how we would react in such an unimaginable scenario.

But courage alone wouldn't have helped Willeford had he not also brought along his own AR-15.

It's more than fair to say that whatever the shooter had planned for his heinous murder spree, he didn't expect to run into someone else with an assault rifle. Unlike the shooter, Willeford wore no body armor. He wasn't even wearing shoes, so hasty had been his rush to help.

As one survivor dramatically recounted, she was lying on the floor as the gunman was walking back down the aisle shooting people to make sure they were dead. Farida Brown said he shot the woman next to her, and she was praying in preparation for her own death when she heard another shot--from a different man in the church doorway.

A former NRA instructor, Willeford was an excellent marksman. Two of his rounds found their target around the shooter's bullet-proof vest.

Nobody knows how many more of the wounded the shooter would have killed. All we know is that Stephen Willeford changed his course of action--for good.

The fact that a good guy with a gun (an assault rifle, to boot) stopped a bad guy with a gun is like uranium-grade kryptonite to gun-control zealots.

Their rabid gnashing of teeth has led some to publicly criticize requests for prayers for the victims.

Forgive them, for they know not what they do. Having a one-track mind (guns), the only solution they can see is the Pollyanna pipe-dream scenario of a firearm ban that all bad guys obey.

Dismissing the folly of zealous and misguided fanatics is not a plan, however. And it's not good enough at a time like this.

The first lesson here for reasonable people of all political persuasions is that before we add more new gun laws, let's enforce the ones we have.

Texas law and others already prevent a person guilty of domestic violence from purchasing a gun. Alas, a bureaucratic blunder put that law asunder.

Good law. Bad enforcement.

The logic from that isn't to tinker with the law, but rather to remedy the enforcement glitch. The worst thing, legislatively, would be to overreact with a foolishly restrictive gun law that would have disarmed Willeford!

The anti-gun radicals aren't 100 percent wrong. We do need new laws, just not new gun laws.

This crime ought to serve as a decisive clarion call that our criminal justice system draw a hard line between violent and nonviolent lawbreakers, and institute a Violent Crime Registry. A past history of violence is a huge indicator of future risk of more violence.

There are millions of criminals who might steal, pick pockets, deal drugs, burglarize an empty home or vandalize a car in the wee hours. But they would never raise a gun against innocent, defenseless people just for the fun of killing them. They couldn't even turn a gun on a bunch of puppies at a pet groomer. The very thought is sickening.

Violent criminals are different.

Someone who batters his wife and fractures an infant's skull (as the church shooter reportedly did) warrants inclusion on a Violent Crime Registry, where merchants, citizens and law enforcement could all keep track of him--and all his ilk.

It would serve as a broader fail-safe when someone slips through the cracks for a narrowly defined law like the domestic-violence prohibition.

Arkansas law requires notification if a nonviolent sex offender locates in your neighborhood. But a violent thug with multiple convictions can move in right next door and you'd never know.

Ohio is considering a bill that would make it the seventh state with a Violent Crime Registry. Called "Sierah's Law," the bill is named after a college student who was abducted and murdered while riding her bike by a 57-year-old man who had previously gone to prison for--hard to believe--abducting a female cyclist.

Arkansas needs to become state No. 8.

If we want to lead even more boldly on the issue of firearm violence, we should become the first state to establish a Gun Crime Registry. We've got good cause. Arkansas ranks disproportionately high (top-10 range) in gun violence and the rate of firearm aggravated assaults.

With so many gun criminals, Natural State citizens deserve to know where they all live and what they all look like.

Advancing technology makes registries easier to implement and access than ever before. They arm society with knowledge that can hamstring convicted violent criminals seeking to operate anonymously in new locales.

The best gun-control strategy is keeping guns out of the hands of violent criminals. That'd be easier if everyone knows who they are.

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Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.

Editorial on 11/10/2017