For those who study violence in faith-based communities, the shooting Sunday at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee has many common characteristics.
By all accounts, this was not a spur of the moment attack. The shooter had at least two guns with him and was wearing a mask. He attacked quickly. The violence began in the parking lot as the shooter murdered a woman walking to her car. After killing her, the shooter continued to the church, entering from the rear. There, he continued shooting, hitting several churchgoers still gathered in the church following the service.
At this point, the shooter appeared ready to gun down anyone and everyone one in his path. Thankfully, though, this shooting ended in a way that we seldom hear about in the news. And it is directly attributable to the fast thinking and preparedness of the churchgoers, including a good guy with a gun.
Though not highlighted by the mainstream media, the churchgoers’ willingness to meet this shooter with force and determination prevented what could have been a large-scale massacre. From the pastor who threw a crate at the shooter then deliberately advanced on him, to the ten-year old who quickly helped barricade the Sunday school classroom door, to the pastor’s grandson who helped people escape out the side door, and to the usher who physically engaged the shooter then subdued him with the usher’s legal firearm, these churchgoers were not passive nor docile. They acted quickly, decisively, and intelligently. In doing so, they saved lives.
The usher’s story deserves special mention. Metro Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson called usher Robert “Caleb” Engle “the hero...who stopped this madness.”
Caleb is reportedly a strong Second Amendment advocate and a concealed carry permit holder. News reports state that the firearm Caleb used to subdue and stand watch over the shooter was Caleb’s own, which he retrieved from his vehicle after the shooter “pistol-whipped” him.
There is no doubt that Caleb’s actions saved untold lives.
The presence of a “good guy with a gun” at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ was a determining factor in stopping the bloodshed. Thank God that there was someone there trained and willing to use a gun.
My well-known philosophy is that lawful concealed carry is a desirable, even necessary, factor in community security. I have written about this before. It is an important reason why my office provides free concealed carry classes to qualified community members.
These churchgoers were also clearly familiar with firearms and did not view guns as mysterious, evil devices. The ten-year old who helped barricade the door revealed his knowledge of guns when he described the shooting scene: “We saw piles and piles of casings.” These are not the words of a child who is unfamiliar with guns. Is there a link between his gun knowledge and his quick-wittedness, bravery, and right thinking in the face of danger? I don't know, but it certainly does not seem to have hurt.
The willingness of this boy and others at the church to act, rather than sit passively while being attacked, was a key factor in preventing a bad situation from being a massacre.
A Sudanese immigrant who is reportedly a legal U.S. resident was arrested for the shooting and apparently admitted to “firing upon” the church. As of this writing, he has been charged with murder and other crimes.
We all have a role to play in making our communities safer. As I have said before, law enforcement officers cannot be present literally every moment of every day, everywhere we go, nor would we want them to be. As the courageous, prepared churchgoers in Antioch showed us, lawfully ensuring our own safety can make all the difference.