He shot babies at point-blank range.
I haven't been able to get the image out of my head since I read it. A couple who survived the church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas, said the gunman walked aisle-to-aisle and shot crying babies. Church video captured it happening, law enforcement officials announced.
I can't believe this is the best we can do.
Never miss a local story.
I can't believe we're willing to accept this as the price of freedom. I can't believe we're weaving those babies' deaths into a larger narrative that says, Look, the system worked: Bad guy starts shooting, good guy shoots back, problem solved.
I listened to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton explain on NPR why worshippers should consider bringing their own guns to church from now on.
"It's not the only response, certainly," he told host Robert Siegel. "But it is a way of protecting innocent people and innocent lives. I mean, first responders in a rural community are sometimes 20 to 30 minutes away. And even in urban settings, they can be five, six, seven minutes away. And obviously with an automatic weapon, it's difficult unless you have somebody in the church that can defend, either paid professionals, which – a church I go to in the Dallas area has security that they pay. But they are a big church, and they can afford it. But some churches may not have those resources, and so they might have to train their own people and be prepared if somebody like this comes in to harm their people."
I don't know where that leaves babies. Presumably their parents are shooting on their behalf?
Couldn't we, instead, try a little harder to keep assault rifles out of the hands of a guy like Devin Patrick Kelley? A guy who beat his wife and cracked the skull of his infant stepson and escaped from a mental health center and was suspected of sexual assault and made death threats against his superiors in the military?
We wouldn't even have to change existing gun laws. We could just enforce the ones already in place.
"The records that emerged add up to at least three missed opportunities that might have offered law enforcement a way to stop Kelley from having access to guns long before he slaughtered much of the congregation in the middle of a Sunday service," the Tribune reports.
But the Air Force didn't enter Kelley's criminal history into the federal database as required by military rules. And that sexual assault allegation was never really pursued. (The Comal County Sheriff's Office is reviewing whether the investigation was mishandled.) A felony sexual assault conviction would have likely prevented him from purchasing a gun.
Prevented him from legally purchasing a gun, many will point out.
"We know that there's black markets in everything that people want, right?" Attorney General Paxton said during the NPR interview. "Drugs, whatever. Just name it. If people want it, there's a black market. And so to be naive and say that there wouldn't be for guns is, I think, unrealistic."
But we don't use that as an excuse to make heroin easier to buy. We don't use that as an excuse to make child pornography easier to download. Well, we could crack down, but, you know, black market.
We create and enforce laws that make it as difficult as possible for criminals to get their hands on them.
Guns are different, I realize. Law-abiding citizens need to be able to purchase them to protect themselves from the law-breaking citizens who get them on the black market. I get it.
But that's not working. Kelley showed up in body armor and slaughtered 26 people – including babies – before the law-abiding citizen with a gun could arrive.
We've got to work harder at prevention.
We've got to examine a culture that shrugs off the laws that are already in place.
We've got to step out of our gun debate corners long enough to talk about this honestly.
We can't be a country that keeps looking the other way. Children in classrooms. Country music fans at a concert. Moviegoers in a theater. Chicagoans on their sidewalks.
Babies in church.
I refuse to believe this is the best we can do.
(Contact Heidi Stevens at email@example.com, or on Twitter: @heidistevens13.)