Increasing numbers of Americans are realizing that multiple murders can happen in their hometowns, and that fact was driven home in Brown County July 29 when a couple was shot to death by a neighbor outside their home at Peach House RV Park.
Some are responding by taking the course required to obtain a Concealed Handgun License and then obtaining the Department of Public Safety issued license.
A few of them are members of the clergy too, according to Wayne Goforth of Castle Keep Services, one of several local providers of the training needed to qualify for the CHL issued by the state. Goforth ought to know; he's a preacher himself.
“About 25 percent of the preachers I know carry right into the pulpit,” Goforth said. “People don’t think about how vulnerable church buildings are, especially during the week when you’re there by yourself. You get indigents asking for money who sometimes get irate when you refuse them or put them off.”
It's a point not lost on those attending the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wis., Aug. 5 after a gunman killed six people and injured four others. The shootings in Brown County, which left the couple and the gunman dead, were sandwiched between another mass shooting that took the lives of 12 people in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater on July 20. This month in Texas, a deputy sheriff was killed in Big Lake, and a constable was killed in College Station. Just Thursday, shootings left two sheriff's deputies dead in La Place, La., and seven people have been arrested.
Brown County Sheriff Bobby Grubbs and Early Police Chief David Mercer each said that without the intervention of another RV park resident, Vic Stacy, the shootings here July 29 could have been much more tragic. Stacy went to his RV and used a handgun to distract the shooter who started a gunfight with the first law enforcement officer on the scene.
The DPS, which administers the Concealed Handgun Licensing Program, licenses individuals to carry concealed handguns within Texas, evaluates the eligibility of applicants through criminal history background checks, and monitors those currently licensed to ensure their continued eligibility. DPS also trains and certifies instructors who teach the required course to applicants.
"The police can't be everywhere," Buddy Payne of Stephenville, who took Goforth's class earlier this year to renew his license, said. He said the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, prompted him to get his CHL.
"But a lot of people feel very secure," Payne said. "For 200 years, we've been a relatively peaceful society. Not a shot was taken in a war here from outside forces. That's a good thing. That is one of the blessings of this land."
Payne said he also recognizes that there are people living here who have no regard for the lives of others. "They prey on people who are weaker than they are. People are realizing it could happen to me. We've got the right to do this (carry a concealed handgun)."
Payne said the general public might be surprised to know who do have licenses, and that many of them are women — even young mothers, who want to protect their families, and women who travel for their careers.
Two instructors of the CHL curriculum in Brown County say they have not seen a dramatic increase in interest or enrollment since these shootings, but business remains steady with a trend upward. Likewise, sales of weapons for personal protection have not seen a sharp increase either, according to Mike Blagg of Weakley-Watson Hardware in downtown Brownwood.
But increased interest in the CHL is a trend that has been experienced in Brown County for more than decade. The state issued no concealed handgun licenses to Brown County residents in 1995, according to DPS records. In 1996, 190 licenses were issued, but the pace fell back to 97 in 1997 and remained near the 100 licenses a year mark until 2002, when 130 were issued.
In the past five years, the number of licenses issued in Brown County has gone from 151 in 2007, to 273 in 2011. The peak year was 2009, with 284 licenses.
"All across the state, people are thinking about it," Goforth said of the concealed handgun license.
While the gun Stacy used to assist law enforcement officers in the Peach House RV Park murders wasn't concealed, law officers have said it was lawfully owned and used. Goforth said the slayings in Colorado provided a significant lesson in the value of a concealed handgun in the possession of a trained, licensed citizen.
"The Colorado theater did have a 'no carry' sign, and a man on the front row said he did have a license, and he was five feet away from him," Goforth said. "But because he's a law-abiding citizen, he didn't have it with him. He said he had a clear shot at the gunman when he started firing."
Goforth offered another example of a shooting in a church also a year to the day prior to the Aurora, Colo., shootings. A man just out of prison "loaded up and went in a church building and shot one person. One person with a CHL could have stopped him right then and there."
"I don't care how many laws you put on the books," Goforth said. "All they do is restrict the honest citizens."
Goforth said what most people don't understand is that these mass shooters aren't thinking as they are.
"The actor-shooter is fully prepared to die," Goforth said. "Unless you've been trained, you might not react properly."
While the local classes haven't surged in number, Goforth said instructors in cities like San Antonio, Austin and Houston are seeing substantial increases.
Merle Niemiec and her husband, Frank, have been teaching CHL classes in Brown County for about three years. She said the vast majority of citizens with the licenses will end up helping out when they find themselves in a violent situation.
"Almost every single one of these things take place in a safe zone," Niemiec said. "They know that the CHL holders won't have their handguns because it's a safe zone. The law-abiding citizens follow the rules. The criminals don't care. They go to the places where they think people are least likely to be able to retaliate. They may be crazy, but they're not stupid."
Another one of Goforth's students, who asked not to be identified, said he attended the class in March and obtained his license in June.
"It had crossed by mind before, and then I got to know Wayne, and I considered it for personal safety of my family," the man who lives in a nearby county said. "I have a little more confidence about it. I'm more aware of what's going around me." The class has helped him understand, for example, how to avoid situations where the need for defending himself mind develop.
That student said he thinks the public would be surprised at how many of the people around them are carrying a handgun.
"A few of my friends, after I told them, said they wouldn't have thought I would be one to have it," the man said. He also has a personal acquaintance, the mother of four boys, who has a license.
"Still, it's a big decision," the man said. “It’s a big responsibility. It's a big decision to make. But things happen all the time, and I started thinking about that. I'm glad I did it."
Part of the reason the public may not be aware of the number of CHL carriers is because they don't make an issue of it.
"Most of what people know about guns they learned from TV," Goforth said. "They see them holding the weapon incorrectly, and a lot of other things." Castle Keep Services provides advanced and defensive courses in addition to the basic and renewal classes.
For that and all approved instruction, gun safety and decision-making are key aspects of the training.
“To win a gunfight: avoid it,” a page on Castle Keep's Facebook states.