Police and fire departments surround the scene of a shooting at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019.
Yffy Yossifor/Star-Telegram | AP
Advocates on both sides of the gun-control debate have seized on the Sunday shooting in White Settlement, Texas, as a rallying cry for their respective causes.
On Sunday, 43-year-old Keith Thomas Kinnunen opened fire in the West Freeway Church of Christ, killing two people before a member of the church’s security team shot and killed him. A video of the incident shows other parishioners reaching for firearms, as well.
Gun rights advocates, including President Donald Trump, have pointed to the shooting as evidence that access to arms gives people better ability to defend themselves. Lawmakers in Texas have passed legislation reflecting that viewpoint, including a series of laws loosening gun control that became effective in September.
The legislation, which was passed after a church shooting in Sutherland Springs left 26 people dead, made it legal for people to bring guns into church, along with other public places.
“Had that law not been passed that allowed these people to be armed, I fear we could have lost hundreds,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in an interview with Fox News.
But gun safety advocates argued that the shooting itself wouldn’t have happened if the U.S. — and Texas — had stronger gun regulation.
“Media referencing the White Settlement shooting owe the public a nuanced discussion; we need watchdogs to make sure it’s so,” tweeted Shannon Watts, founder of gun safety group Moms Demand Action.
“Two are dead due to Texas’ lax gun laws; a man with a long criminal history was able to access a long gun,” she added.
According to media reports, the assailant’s criminal history includes charges of assault, theft, arson and possession of an illegal weapon in Texas, Oklahoma and New Jersey.
Texas had the 25th highest rate of gun homicides in the U.S. from 2008 to 2017, according to research compiled by Everytown, the gun safety group that runs Moms Demand Action.
Divisions around the shooting in Texas come amid a broader political debate over gun safety in the U.S. The issue is a major topic among Democratic presidential candidates who are running for the right to take on Trump next November. Leading candidates, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and former Vice President Joe Biden, have advocated for universal background checks and closing loopholes that allow people to buy guns more easily from unlicensed sellers or online.
Mike Bloomberg, a late entrant to the race, has made gun safety a seminal issue in his campaign. Bloomberg helped found Everytown and he remains a major financial backer of the organization. His financial support helped Democrats in Virginia take back state government in November, in an election that featured gun regulation as a leading issue.
In addition to closing loopholes and requiring universal background checks, Bloomberg has said that if elected president he would pour $100 million a year into local violence intervention programs and spend at least $100 million on public health research into gun violence.
Trump, whose White House bid benefited from $30 million from the NRA in 2016, has said he wants to ensure the gun-rights lobby’s views are “represented and respected” in evaluating gun legislation, including H.R. 8, a bill that mandates background checks.
H.R. 8 passed the Democratic-controlled House in February but has yet to come to a vote in the GOP-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he will not put any bill up for a vote unless he is sure that Trump would sign it.
In a tweet on Tuesday, Trump praised the benefits of allowing guns in church.
“If not for the fact that there were people inside of the church that were both armed, and highly proficient in using their weapon, the end result would have been catastrophic,” he wrote.