On Sunday, more than 20 people were killed outside San Antonio, Texas, when a gunman opened fire inside of a church. Meanwhile, 20 people showed up to an open-carry rally in Austin, outside the state capitol. The poignant coincidence that the open-carry rally and the Texas church shooting occurred simultaneously in different parts of the Lone Star state puts the unending debate over gun control in a new light.
The shooting reportedly occurred at approximately 11:30 a.m. That's when witnesses saw a man walk into First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and heard him fire about 20 shots during a church service. According to early reports from local media, police officials have said that more than 20 people were killed and at least another 20 were injured. The gunman was reportedly also killed after a brief chase with police.
Approximately 30 minutes before the shooting, an open-carry rally began in Austin, about 80 miles north of Sutherland Springs. According to The Austin American-Statesman, about 20 supporters of open-carry laws gathered outside the state capitol building at 11 a.m. The rally was reportedly one of dozens of Second Amendment rallies scheduled to take place across the country on Sunday.
For some social media users, the coincidence was difficult to ignore and impossible to process. In one part of a state, dozens of people were reportedly shot by a man wielding a gun in public. In another part of the state, at the very same time, dozens of people were gathered to promote the ability of Americans to carry guns in public. Talk about irony — at least, in the most painful sense.
The rally's organizers seemed to anticipate some backlash, even before they could have known about Sunday's violent attack in Sutherland Springs. According to the Statesman, a press release for the rally said, "We will be looking to have open and honest conversations about the importance of the Second Amendment and to rally our voices to say ‘shall not be infringed’ means something, while making it clear that gun violence is something that we stand firmly against.”
Texas is well known for its affinity for lenient gun laws. According to the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, Texas does not require a permit to purchase or a license to own rifles, shotguns, and handguns. Firearms do not have to be registered with the state, and Texas does not require individuals to have a permit to carry shotguns and rifles.
In May, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott actually visited a gun range to sign into law a bill that lowered the cost of a gun license in the state. According to The Dallas Morning News, the bill brought Texas's fee down to one of the lowest such fees in the country. Abbott shot a 9mm handgun to mark the occasion.
On Sunday, though, Abbott had a very different message to send his people. In a statement shared on Twitter, the Texas governor called the shooting in Sutherland Springs "horrific," sending his "sincerest thoughts and prayers" to the victims.
Still, the shooting seemed to beg an important question: Is there a place for widespread gun ownership in a country where mass shootings seem so rampant? On social media, many who drew the painful connection between the pro-gun rally in Austin and the shooting near San Antonio wanted an answer from leaders. After all, the Texas shooting took place only about a month after the deadliest shooting in recent U.S. history occurred in Las Vegas. With the country still reeling from the violence in Vegas and last week's attack in New York City, the shooting in Sutherland Springs may be a call to action for leaders.