The Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church shooting is the largest mass shooting to take place in a church in America and the fifth largest shooting in the nation’s modern history — but it was preventable, and we cannot forget that.
Devin Patrick Kelley entered the First Baptist Church (FBC) of Sutherland Springs, Texas on Nov. 5, 2017, and opened fire with an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon on the worshipping congregation, killing 26 people, including an unborn child, and injuring 20 more.
The construction firm contracted to design a new church building revealed Feb. 4 that plans for the new building would be on paper within the next six weeks. Part of the development costs are set to be funded by the $1.1 million of donations that flooded in following the tragedy, allowing for a larger church with “auditorium-style” seating.
That construction requires that the original church, which currently houses a memorial to those lost, be torn down. Twenty-five chairs are set up, each one where a victim was sitting during the service, and each painted with a red cross and adorned with a rose. The bullet-hole-riddled walls testify to the horrors wrought upon those worshippers.
As a nation, we must ask the people of Sutherland Springs to preserve the FBC so that it might stand as a reminder to American voters that lives could have been saved. While the new building will also include a memorial, no reminder can be as effective as the original church.
The FBC of Sutherland Springs should not be torn down until the American people and government have taken steps to address gun control problems.
Walking through the site of a tragedy conjures up intense emotions — feelings that can only be felt in the location, like the FBC of Sutherland Springs. The church can also serve as a reminder to the rest of the country to fight for reasonable gun control laws.
Think of the icon that the Pulse nightclub has become to so many people since last October’s mass shooting. The original Pulse nightclub is being turned into a memorial, per the owner’s wishes, to educate the world about the shooting that occurred there on Oct. 1, 2017. That memorial has become a “‘healing initiative’ for victims’ families, survivors and first responders,” according to CNN. This education will last as long as the original nightclub — and the memorial — stands. The nation doesn’t view the still-standing Pulse nightclub only as a reminder of the sorrows incurred, but also as a sign of respect toward those lost and a symbol of future change.
The same can happen for the FBC of Sutherland Springs.
Almost 31 percent of mass shootings take place in the United States, which only accounts for 5 percent of the global population. Other nations do not experience atrocities of this proportion anywhere near as frequently. Yet even after the largest mass shooting in recent U.S. history in from the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay hotel, which claimed 58 lives, no national gun control legislation has been passed. If the U.S. cannot acknowledge that it has a gun control problem, then gun violence issues will never be addressed.
To those who argue against gun control legislation because they believe that access to guns serves as a check on violence, a 2014 Federal Bureau of Investigation study on U.S. mass shootings determined that argument to be incorrect. After the F.B.I. analyzed the 160 mass shootings between 2000 and 2013, it found that only five ended with an armed civilian stopping the perpetrator. What prevents a mass shooting is a reduction in the number of guns in circulation. Mass shootings aren’t something that Americans just have to live with.
In 1996, Australia experienced its largest mass shooting ever. The Port Arthur Massacre claimed 35 lives when Martin Bryant opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle on a popular tourist site. In the months that followed the Port Arthur Massacre, the Australian parliament united political forces to pass legislation that outlawed “automatic and semiautomatic rifles.” From 1996-2016, Australia had zero mass shootings, down from 13 in the 18 years prior.
This is where we come back to the destruction of the FBC of Sutherland Springs. The inaction of the American people and our government has contributed to this tragedy and all losses due to gun violence. The anguish the FBC shooting evoked from Sutherland Springs is precisely why this church must remain standing and become a symbol of change. We are obligated to honor the victims of mass shootings by attempting to prevent future mass shootings.
Jeannie Brown, a former Sutherland Springs resident, asked “If [the church] is destroyed, does that mean he [the gunman] won?” Perhaps. If the church is destroyed, then fear and violence will have triumphed over the rule of law.
Last November, Sen. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called for stricter gun legislation and tweeted “thoughts and prayers are not enough. … We must end this violence.”
Like the Pulse memorial, the FBC of Sutherland Springs can become a symbol that drives the U.S. to do so.
But perhaps in light of last Wednesday’s mass shooting at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17, the largest shooting at a U.S. high school in recent history, change will come. Survivors and their families have taken an active stance, pressuring lawmakers for gun legislation and change not seen since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Survivors will march on Tallahassee and call out lawmakers who argue that gun control wouldn’t have prevented the shooting. The activism Florida survivors have adopted demonstrates how witnessing the effects of gun violence firsthand can motivate change. The question is whether the rest of America will join the effort to prevent future mass shootings.
Spencer Castle is a College freshman from Kansas City, Mo.
UPDATE (2/21/18 at 5:46 p.m.): The article has been updated to address the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Fla.