Three Lessons from the Sutherland Springs Shooting

Sutherland Springs law enforcement (courtesy

After a mass shooting,  the mainstream media fixates on motive. The People of the Gun are more interested in methodology. How was the slaughter accomplished? All observers wonder, what could have been done to prevent it? Here’s a clue: not gun control. Not in the case of the Sutherland Springs slaughter. And not in any other case, either.

But there are some important lessons to be learned. Lessons that should be familiar to many of our readers.

1. Life threatening violence can appear anywhere, any time

Sutherland Springs is a bucolic South Texas town. It’s nothing like Chicago’s gang-infested urban hell holes, where drive-bys and revenge killings are an everyday occurrence. Sitting in a small church on a blessedly cool fall Sunday morning, nestled in a community so small no one uses their turn indicators (’cause everyone knows where you’re going), none of the First Baptist Church’s parishioners had reason to suspect they were about to be slaughtered by a madman.

No reason other than the fact that madmen exist. Killers who strike at a time and place of their choosing, not their victims’. Killers who have no respect for human life or basic human decency. If you accept their existence and the existence of people who are more evil than crazy, you understand that bad things can and do happen to good people anywhere, any time. Nowhere is perfectly safe.

2. Carry a gun

For gun owners, there’s one important way to “cope” with the ever-present possibility of a violent attack: carry a gun. A firearm is the best personal defense weapon money can buy — but only if you have it with you.

I suspect the majority of the adults in The First Baptist church last Sunday morning are or were gun owners. As far as we know, none of them returned fire as the killer began his rampage. At the risk of offering a piercing glimpse into the obvious, if you don’t have access to a gun, you don’t have a gun. So have a gun.

I know. For most of us, the odds of needing a defensive firearm in our everyday life — in church, on the playground, at the gym, at home or work — are vanishingly small. But the consequences of not having a gun when we need one (or two) couldn’t be any more dire. So again, carry a gun wherever and whenever you can, regardless of the level of perceived danger.

3. Be ready to use your gun

Stephen Willeford was a lucky man. He left his house to confront the mass murderer with an AR-15 loaded with a single ammunition magazine, into which he’d hurriedly inserted an indeterminate number of rounds. When he faced the killer for the last time, after he’d run off the road, Mr. Willeford had only two rounds left.

Be that guy, but don’t be that guy.

Whatever firearm you carry, make sure it’s easily accessible, fully loaded and reliably functional. Where you take it from there — an extra mag, a backup gun, flashlight, tons of tacticool training — is up to you. But be sure to have the basics covered: access to a working gun and the knowledge necessary to use it.

Equally important, Sunday’s tragedy shows the importance of situational awareness, no matter where we are, or what we’re doing. Not paranoia. Awareness. Readiness. Because the sooner you launch a counter-attack, well, the estimable Mr. Willeford knows the score. “I just wish I could’ve been there sooner.” As do we all.


  1. avatar pwrserge says:

    4. If you keep a rifle handy for defense purposes. Keep a few loaded magazines and a handy way to carry them in the same place.

    1. avatar TruthTellers says:

      Yes, I would suggest people look into getting a vest that holds a pistol, pistol and rifle magazines, and keep the rifle next to it. That way you have everything in the same spot and can strap up in seconds and last in a prolonged engagement if such a thing ever happens.

    2. avatar skoon says:


      1 mag in the rifle
      2 in bladetech holsters that can be clipped quickly to my edc belt (cant say enough good things about bladetech)
      4 more in a go bag with full g40 and 3 mags of 10mm in various hardcast and jhp flavors

      Now i just need to find out where to get a set of those huge brass balls

      Edit also carry everywhere all the time

    3. avatar Jason Majors says:

      5. Wear shoes around the house. Willeford said he engaged the murderer barefoot, because every shot he heard was another potential victim, and he didn’t want to waste time putting on shoes.

      If TTAG has a Gun Hero of the Year award, I think he should be a nominee.

      1. avatar TruthTellers says:

        They make running shoes that don’t use laces that you can put on in seconds that cost around 25 to 30 bucks.

        I advise everyone to own a pair as part of a rapid response or bug out kit.

      2. avatar BLoving says:

        Y’all know what? Thats a great idea! Someone go get his shoe size and lets buy the man a pair of Crocs he can keep by the door.
        And an extra Magpul or two. 🤠

      3. avatar joetast says:

        Evidently needing shoes didn’t bother him. What a guy, he is a true citizen hero.

      4. avatar ColdNorth says:

        An ideal shoe would be something like boating shoes. They have non-marking soles like a good slipper, but will hold up to an emergency run outside better. This is important for people in northern climes where wearing shoes indoors just won’t work when it’s snowy and muddy outside.

      5. avatar Michael says:

        Walmart sells camo slippers with a rubber sole for about $12. I wear them around the house with socks and will even take them camping. Get about two years use out of each pair.

      6. avatar anonymoose says:

        Tactical flip-flops!

    4. avatar Falcon 12 says:

      SIG 716 GEN 2 in a Hornady RAPiD wall safe.

    5. avatar anonymoose says:

      Brotip: you cannot “wear out” magazine springs by leaving rounds loaded. Springs wear out from being loaded and unloaded repeatedly, so the more you mess with it the more it will wear. Pmags however have to be kept with the little dustcovers on them if you leave them loaded for long periods of time or the feedlips will start to spread out. Also, Saiga shotguns (and probably other box-fed shotguns also) have an issue where the top shell can get deformed if you leave a loaded mag in the gun. Metal rifle magazines like STANAG mags can be left loaded for DECADES without any issues.

  2. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    Lesson 4: When going up against someone with a rifle – bring a rifle. I believe that is a big component of the success of driving off the shooter.

    Lesson 5: When going up against someone with a rifle, bring a bigger rifle. A .300 WM or .338 WM (or similar energy rifles) pretty much puts to rest the issue of most body armor, unless they have the level of armor with hard plate in carriers.

    1. avatar pwrserge says:

      Any modern rifle cartridge will go through soft armor like a hot knife through butter. Plates don’t make the bad guy invincible, they just require shooting him in the 70% of his body not covered by the plates.

      1. avatar TruthTellers says:

        Which is really tough to do with a handgun

        1. avatar clst1 says:

          True, but I get funny looks when I walk through Wal-Mart with my rifle in my back pocket.

        2. avatar How_Terrible says:

          You know what they say: It’s all fun and games at Walmart until the cops are called…

      2. avatar Art out West says:

        After this incident, I loaded up several magazines for my AR and AK.

        As a general rule, I’ve always got my carry gun (642) on me, and also keep a number of loaded pistols and revolvers in my two safes.

        I’ve kept my shotguns and rifles unloaded. I’ll still keep the rifles unloaded, but will keep some loaded magazines handy. I’m also thinking about keeping the shotguns “patrol ready” with empty chambers, but tubes loaded with buckshot.

        1. avatar Joel says:

          I have always kept pretty much all my guns loaded. Condition three or cruiser ready. (The two main EDC’s plus wife’s gun are kept hot). They aren’t any good otherwise. I haven’t graduated to ‘collector’ status yet. If I ever Do, I’d probably leave a few of them unloaded though.

          I’ve heard the people say not to keep mags loaded because it ruins the springs, but I’ve also heard that was a myth.

          What say you TTAG?

        2. avatar coyyote says:

          Every long gun in our house is kept cruiser ready. Pistols are 1911 and cocked and locked with the only exception being a Sig 938 which my wife carries in her swim bag when she goes to Masters Swim Team practice. Its Israeli carry.

          We have done this for over 20 years and it is actually a gun safety issue for us – for in our house truely – all guns ARE loaded.

    2. avatar Jason Majors says:

      There are few semi-auto platforms available in a caliber above .308 or 6.5 CM (the Barrett Light .50 being an obvious exception). A bolt action rifle in that gunfight would have been a serious disadvantage. Also, those heavier caliber rifles tend to be heavier and have longer barrels, and are more likely to have a magnified optic.

      A compact, light rifle like a 16″ AR or AK, with a red dot sight, is ideal for that situation. And a caliber like 5.56 or 7.62x(51|39|35) is ideal as well. And like serge said, those calibers will penetrate anywhere but the plate.

      1. avatar Art out West says:

        5.45×39 and .30 carbine are fine as well

      2. avatar rick3 says:

        Or my Hakim semi-auto in 8mm Mauser, with a 30 rd mag!
        About as heavy/maneuverable as a 10 ft ladder, but you can shoot 30 aimed rounds in about 6 seconds (almost no recoil), and will go thru just about anything.

    3. avatar joetast says:

      I’d reckon getting clobbered by a 300 or 338 would knock you for a loop regardless of what armor you wearing. We wrapped a hedge fence post with body armor.shot it with an 06 and broke the fence post

  3. avatar Nanashi says:

    You forgot: The government is and shall always be incompetent.

    1. avatar Ing says:

      Truth. The government can’t protect you, and what’s more, it doesn’t really even want to.

      The primary motive of any government entity is to perpetuate its own existence. Your individual existence isn’t necessary to that endeavor.

  4. avatar kevin says:

    Another: Carry a real gun in a major caliber. Glock 23, good. .380 Mouse, not as good.
    Another: Even if you’re unarmed, fight back. People survive gunshot wounds every day.

    1. avatar Jason Majors says:

      Carry a real gun … Glock 23, good.

      You just contradicted yourself. :p

    2. avatar 4808 N says:

      First rule of a gunfight. Bring one.
      Col. Jeff Cooper

  5. avatar jwm says:

    I wonder how many new gun owners were created by this church episode and the LV shootings?

    Even the most pig stubborn human and civil rights denying anti gun leftist must realize that the only way to give yourself a fighting chance is to be armed.

    hillary is surrounded by guns. Do her followers not have the same chance at life as she does? Or are they expendable?

    1. avatar frmrdav says:

      They are very expendable. They mint new democraps daily with the immigration system they set up.

    2. avatar h wilson says:

      This is the only good point I have heard so far.

      The wealthy surround themselves with body guards that have firearms. then they expect the rest of us to say we are safe without firearms and that firearms are not necessary. Not quite fair to us.

  6. avatar Darkman says:

    When at the range I always make it a habit of using 2 or 3 mags in a head shot scenario. Center mass is fine for most SD situations. I just remember the North Hollywood bank heist fiasco. Police came up against criminals with rifles and body Armour with nothing but handguns. They couldn’t make head shots. Not until a local gun store was broken into and long guns were brought into play did they finally take the perps down.

    1. avatar DoubleD says:

      The gun store was B&B, my favorite shop back in the day. And I do not think that they “broke in”. I believe that the store was open and gave the officers rifles on their promise to arrange payment later.

    2. avatar California Richard says:

      The shopping cart full of guns and ammo didn’t make it on scene before the two badguys were taken out. Larry shot himself in the head and the Emil got taken out by the SWAT team (and left to bleed to death 45 minutes later)…… but, yes headshots…. practice till you can do them from 50 yards with your EDC and carry enough rounds for when you miss, because you will.

  7. avatar CCDWGUY says:

    While we don’t go to church every Sunday when we do, we sit in the back, I carry my EDC legally in my state and am aware of how to get out if necessary. Same at home and just about everywhere else, every day all day unless I have to go to the Post Office as a felony is not in my future. I’m about to have a bunch of liberal relatives visit due to a death in the family and have had to secure all kinds of stuff around the house. Just can’t wait if they see something that bothers them.

  8. avatar WI Patriot says:

    “Three Lessons from the Sutherland Springs Shooting”

    I don’t if I’d consider them “lessons”, they’re more like truths…

  9. avatar Docduracoat says:

    What I find interesting about the mainstream media coverage is that the shooter had an “ assault rifle” while the Good Samaritan had a “ rifle”
    They are ignoring that it was bad guy AND good guy both with AR 15’s
    The only thing that would have been better is if the bad guy had the weapon of all bad guys- an AK 47

    1. avatar Rick says:

      No, its an AUG in all the Die Hard movies isn’t it? Plus, is it a low rent bad guy, or a high class bad guy. AR’s are so indy thriller, you need a truly unique hero gun, CZ Bren, and a unique heel gun, Kel-tec, anything, but a SU16 would be good.

      1. avatar strych9 says:

        Sometimes it’s just a Bren Gun…

        1. avatar Nedd Ludd says:

          Noel Coward – Could You Please Oblige Us With A Bren Gun?

        2. avatar Nedd Ludd says:

          A better version:
          Could You Please Oblige Us With A Bren Gun? Dad’s Army
          Starts at 0.26

  10. avatar strych9 says:

    The shitty thing here is that there really wasn’t a way for anyone in the church to have much in the way of parity with the shooter/mass murdering fuckhead.

    It’s all well and good to say “Have a rifle” but that requires, as the article notes, having access to said rifle. If you’re trapped in a building with the BG between you and your vehicle a trunk gun isn’t much use to you and carrying a rifle around all day isn’t something most people are going to do. Besides, how many churches are going to let you waltz in with your AR/AK/SBR strapped to you? Probably not many.

    The truly awful thing about this is that I expect church shootings to rise. Churches are generally a reasonably soft target with most people facing away from the doors and paying attention to something other than who might enter the building in the middle of a service.

    Generally speaking churches also provide decently sized crowds for the area they’re in. Large cities may have mega churches but Sutherland Springs ain’t no big city. Consider that it’s a town of about 600 and 50 of those people (8.3% of the population) were in this particular church. The last time I went to church growing up I lived in a small town in the North woods of the UP of Michigan. A town of ~7000 people at that time and the usual attendance of that church was about 350 (~4.8% of the population).

    Especially in rural and semi-rural areas there isn’t a much better target in terms of percent of the population being in one spot at the same time on a regular basis.

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      I’m talking about the situation in which Mr. Stephen Willeford found himself: he assessed the situation, he knew the shooter was using a rifle, and armed himself with a rifle in response.

      My “have a rifle” isn’t for the people in the church. It is for those in Mr. Willeford’s position – he had a choice of gun to use in responding, and he chose wisely. People are mis-understanding my comment: I said when going up against someone with a rifle (ie, you know he has a rifle because the situation has already started), bring a rifle. I should have said “if you have a choice.” Mr. Willeford had a choice of what to haul out of his gun safe.

      If you’re in the position of parishioner in the church before such an event, you don’t know what the threats will be – so you’re going to pack a pistol, preferring concealment over power.

      1. avatar strych9 says:


        I wasn’t responding to you comment or any other comment in particular. In fact, very unusually, I didn’t even read yours.

        Apologies if you felt I was questioning your comment. While I didn’t read this one I usually read your comments and have not yet found a reason to question your overall wisdom (though I may have the occasional minor quibble).

      2. avatar CC says:

        I believe when he went up against the bad guy, that bad guy only had a handgun.
        Whether he had not reloaded mags remaining for his rifle, left his rifle in or outside the church, or did not use his rifle for another reason, is not in the details released, but the actual “exchange” of fire was: good guy with rifle, bad guy with handgun. But the shooter did have a vest with a front plate, and you certainly would want a rifle if going against a bad guy with a vest and any weapon, knife included.

    2. avatar Herp says:

      A town of 7k in the woods of UP?

      Do you attend those idpa practices in the university (I think it’s MI tech) gun range? We may have shot together, the world being as small as it is up here.

      1. avatar strych9 says:

        I haven’t lived in Houghton (that’s the town as you’ve correctly surmised) since 2000.

        When I was living there my dad and I did indeed use the Michigan Tech SDC range on occasion.

  11. avatar Chris T in KY says:

    Is there a way to attach a magazine to the stock of an AR15, so your extra ammo is on the rifle?? Any after market products??

    1. avatar Timmy B says:

      Redi-Mag. After some training, very effective.

  12. avatar Carter says:

    Stick to the basics. Utilize cover and concealment. Aim carefully, shoot deliberately. Invest in a quality firearm. Have plenty of ammo. Always keep a round in the chamber. Don’t forget to swipe the safety as you prepare to engage if you’re not Glock’ed. Keep shooting until the threat is fully neutralized. Watch out for additional shooters. Rehearse worst case scenarios in your mind and work on being mentally prepared in advance. Never brandish, menace or showboat. Always assume body armor is being worn and don’t get tunnel vision shooting for center mass. If someone wants to play God with you and your life, your family, friends or innocents around you — make sure you have the option to respond in similar fashion. Never get caught without a gun; no, you’re not paranoid — the world is filled with evil SOB’s and all it takes is a single random encounter with one to lose your life to one. All of this, I’m speaking from experience. I don’t — and you don’t — live in a paper target world.

  13. avatar B says:

    I’m guilty of not carrying all the time. I can’t CC one to work so it kind of screws the rest of the day when running errands afterwards. Only time I can religiously carry is on vacation.

  14. avatar wd40 says:

    The BG started shooting Outside the church, Little excuse IF someone inside the church to draw their gun to be ready for that dirtbag to walk thru the door. Maybe I’m a Monday morning QB, But FFS don’t Be in condition white in public! I’m always in condition yellow or orange, I sit in the back of church by door I see all the comings and goings of ppl and a view to the parking lot. I carry a full frame .45 13+1 with spare 13rd mag. Progs say: (“you don’t need more than 7 rounds for SD, awww blow it out your cake hole moron”)

  15. avatar Joe R. says:

    4) If you use your gun in a violent act, the FBI / ATF / DEA / STATE DEPARTMENT / VATICAN will ALL SAY: “Oh yeah, we had him / her on our radar, we were watching them for years. We ‘have a file on them’. We ‘had someone following them’. We . . . BSCYA”

    Your defense is up to you. And they are some of the people that you need protection from.

  16. avatar coyyote says:

    Another thing to consider from tactical anatomy is the pelvis. Frontal and especially lateral pelvis wounds are extremely incapacitating and often mortal. Although you can get an add on “drape” that covers your frontal pelvis not many people purchase them with their vest.

    Head shots can be a bit tricky as the shooter is certainly looking as well as perhaps moving. Not as easy as the head shots on a stationary IPSC target. That said the head is an ideal place to put a round as instantaneous de-animation solves the problem.

    1. avatar DoubleD says:

      Good point, Cayyote. Most of us train for center mass, which is appropriate. However, shots to the pelvis, and even legs, while not the best primary targets, can bring a threat down. Devoting a mag or two during range practice to these alternative target areas would probably be a good idea.

      It is also worth noting that in mass shootings the perpetrator usually retreats, or frequently, kills himself when confronted by armed resistance. Not surprising as most of these people plan on being killed or killing themselves rather than be arrested. This usually makes shooting back the best call even if center mass hits are unlikely.

  17. avatar rt66paul says:

    How about having a Tokarev handgun. The Tok round can go through many bullet proof vests. Yes, it is not an easy CCW handgun, but locked in your car, it is a decent handgun when you do not have a rifle.

  18. avatar MamaLiberty says:

    The one thing missing from this list is the mindset… the overwhelming desire to live, and the willingness to fight back no matter the odds. Most people can understand the “mama bear” thing, but somehow these folks in the church seem to have done NOTHING to resist having their children and elders killed.

    What’s up with that? In Texas, of all places? Why didn’t the churchgoers – who vastly outnumbered the killer – not take him down after the first shot? Did they actually just LET this monster kill their children and parents? I call that an abomination almost as evil as the killer with the gun.

    Can you train yourself into that mindset? I think so. Tragically, a great many people have been brainwashed otherwise, to be terrified, automatically helpless victims instead. Without that mindset, all the guns in the world are pretty much useless.

    1. avatar gunr says:

      I was thinking the same thing. Also, were not any of them armed? It would have only taken one gun to take this guy out.
      I’d like to make a 30 second video, titled: “The way it should have turned out”. When the folks inside heard the shooting outside, they all ran up to the front door, and when the ass hole barged in, he would be greeted by 20 or 30 folks, all blazing away at him. There wouldn’t have been enough let of him to make a decent slice of Swiss cheese!

  19. avatar Manny says:

    Which category describes your home rifle situation?

    Def Con 4: Rifle unloaded, magazines unloaded.
    Def Con 3: Rifle unloaded, magazines loaded.
    Def Con 2: Magazine inserted, round chambered, safety on.
    Def Con 1: Safety off, good luck.

  20. avatar Zebra Dun says:

    You left out one important fact.
    It was a Church, a gun free zone, no one was allowed to carry in the Church.
    I know what you say do but legally, lawfully most of the time you are the one doing wrong carrying into a gun free zone.
    Dead right as the case is.
    Churches, Hospitals, and other gun free zones need a person of trust, qualified and capably dependable to carry in such areas. It can be a security guard, a deacon or the Choir leader.
    But, if it’s a gun free zone it cannot be safe and be gun free.
    Outlaws don’t obey laws, signs or have warm and fuzzy feelings of right and fair.

    1. avatar Coyyote says:

      In Tx churches are not gun free unless they post a 30.06 sign expressly stating no guns allowed. Thats current state law

      1. avatar gunr says:

        Was that sign displayed at this church?

        1. avatar Coyyote says:

          I do not know. Have not heard anyone say it was. However the law is written a bit confusing and many people think all churches are gun free zones.

          Tx atty general says he will issue a clarification

    2. avatar Jeff K says:

      NC churches are not gun free; I carry everywhere anyhow.

  21. avatar Bret Allen says:

    In Colorado public places are not allowed to make law. I.E. even if a business has a no guns sign on the door, you are not forced to comply. If open carrying, they can ask you to leave, but concealed carry, they don’t even know so no harm no foul. Only schools, state and federal buildings, courts and any public place with permanently installed metal detectors are a no carry under law restriction. I wish all states functioned like this.

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