Police officers gather outside Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas after October 16, 1991, shooting (photo: AP)
On October 16, 1991, George Hennard drove his car through the front window of Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas. He was there for one purpose, and stepping out of his vehicle, calmly and methodically opened fire on more than two score unarmed patrons inside the building.
No one shot back. Why? Texas law prohibited its citizens from carrying firearms in public places. Although the victims at Luby’s obeyed that law, the gunman did not.
Hennard was reported to have walked from table to table, choosing his victims. One unarmed man, Al Gratia, tried to tackle Hennard, but was immediately gunned down. As Mr. Gratia’s wife was comforting her dying husband, the gunman shot her in her head.
The couple’s daughter, Dr. Suzanna Gratia-Hupp, was with her parents in the cafeteria, and witnessed their murders. Gratia-Hupp owned a handgun, but had obeyed the law, taking it out of her purse and leaving it in her car. She later testified in Congress that she wished she had violated the law that day, because her parents might still be alive. “I’ve hit much smaller targets at much greater distances,” she said.
The saying goes that “when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.” Here, the first officer was on the scene in about a minute. But even though the heroic officers responded with remarkable speed, this did not stop Hennard from killing 23 people and wounding 20 more, before taking his own life. Luby’s remained the largest mass shooting in the United States until the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007.
On December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, Adam Lanza walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School. After shooting and killing the principal, he walked from classroom to classroom, carefully targeting — and murdering — the children inside.
Once again, no one fired back. Like at Luby’s, none of the adults at Sandy Hook were permitted to carry a firearm, ensuring that the killer was the only person at the school who was armed. The federal Gun Free School Zones Act criminalizes possessing a firearm at or near a school. Like at Luby’s, at Sandy Hook the police arrived within minutes. Once again, when finally confronted by someone who would return fire, the cowardly shooter took his own life. But by that point, the killer had been able to massacre more than two dozen people.
Thankfully, enacting more gun control was not the approach taken in Texas. In response to the Luby’s Cafeteria shooting, Texas in 1995 took the common-sense step of legalizing concealed carry, thereby giving people the ability to protect themselves in public. The battle for concealed carry was led by none other than Dr. Gratia-Hupp, who was later elected to the Texas legislature as a champion of gun rights.
Dr. Gratia-Hupp is a remarkable person, well known and admired, and originally from Friendswood, Texas, where I lived for many years. She worked tirelessly to explain that the solution to Luby’s was not less freedom, but more freedom, as only law abiding people obey gun laws. More gun laws only lead to more defenseless victims of mass shootings.
Unlike in Texas, the initial Congressional response to the Sandy Hook shooting was to push for massive infringements on the Second Amendment. In the face of scathing criticism, the Senate recently rejected extreme gun control proposals that even supporters had admitted would have done nothing to prevent mass shootings.
Now, Congress should use this opportunity to truly improve the safety of children in schools by repealing the Gun Free School Zones Act. This law, in essence, tells criminals that they can attack schools with the knowledge that no one inside will be armed and able to defend themselves. I introduced H.R. 35, the Safe Schools Act of 2013, to repeal this terrible law, and give us the ability to defend our children against lawless predators. If Congress really wants to protect our children, then, following on the lessons learned from Luby’s, the approach is to expand freedom, as my bill does, not reduce it.
In the end, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
It is time to empower Americans to defend themselves, rather than make it more difficult for them to do so. That is the type of real legislative reform which will deter, or quickly eliminate, the next madman before he can do harm.