A man accidentally shot himself and his wife during a discussion on gun violence in churches, less than two weeks after a deadly massacre in a Texas church.
Older members of a United Methodist Church in Tellico Plains, Tennessee were meeting for a Thanksgiving gathering on Thursday afternoon. One member of the group took out his gun as part of the conversation, saying, “I carry my handgun everywhere,” according to Tellico Plains Police Chief Russ Parks.
The man, an elderly church member in his 80s, showed his .380 caliber Ruger handgun to others before putting it away, Parks said. “Somebody else walked up and said, ‘Can I see it?'” the police chief continued. “He pulled it back out and said, ‘With this loaded indicator, I can tell that it’s not loaded.’ Evidently he just forgot that he re-chambered the weapon.”
Both the man and his wife, also in her 80s, were injured and flown to the University of Tennessee Medical Center. The injuries do not appear to be life threatening and it does not appear any charges will be filed.
The shooting occurred after attendees reportedly began discussing a devastating shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 5. The suspect in that incident, Devin Patrick Kelley, allegedly shot and killed 26 people in First Baptist Church. Kelley fled the scene and was shot twice by a bystander outside of the church. He later died following a car chase.
Since the tragedy in Texas, a number of lawmakers and commentators have revived the “good guy with a gun” theory, pointing to the actions of the man who shot Kelley as he exited the church. Some have called for bringing firearms to houses of worship.
“We’ve had shootings at churches, you know, forever. It’s going to happen again. And so, we need people in churches — either professional security or at least arming some of the parishioners or the congregation — so that they can respond, when something like this happens again,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton declared after the shooting. “All I can say is in Texas at least we have the opportunity to have conceal carry. And so…there’s always the opportunity that gunman will be taken out before he has the opportunity to kill very many people.”
Dallas pastor Rev. Robert Jeffress (who also serves as a faith adviser to President Trump) endorsed Paxton’s viewpoint during an appearance on Fox News the morning after the shooting.
“I’d say a quarter to a half of our members are concealed carry,” Jeffress said. “They have guns, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. They bring them into the church with them.”
Other Americans argue that firearms have no business in religious spaces.
“Gun violence is our problem. And we, holed up in our sanctuaries, seem to be losing heart as we resort to building arsenals in our churches and homes,” wrote Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King last Friday.
Jeremy Roberts, a practicing Mormon who supports gun rights, told the Salt Lake Tribune that he had religious objections to the presence of guns in churches. (The Mormon church’s website, lds.org, indicates that guns should not be permitted in churches unless carried by law enforcement.)
“If God’s not telling my prophet we need more guns in our churches,” Roberts said, “I believe when they say we don’t need more guns in our churches.”
Having guns on hand during mass shootings hasn’t proven beneficial historically. Numerous studies have indicated that more guns actually worsen violent situations. A mass shooting in a Colorado Walmart store seemed to prove that point only days before the Texas massacre. A number of shoppers in the Walmart were armed, but the presence of their weapons complicated police efforts to locate the shooter, prolonging the manhunt by several hours.
Just as the presence of guns hindered police efforts in Colorado, the accident in Tellico Plains sparked a firestorm of misinformation. Witnesses reported panic spread through the church after the gun went off, leading some to believe there was an active shooter on the premises, something also assumed by the dispatcher who answered the call. It took nearly an hour for law enforcement to realize the nature of the incident — at which point nearby high schools and hospitals were on lockdown.