American Madness: Gun Nuts Keep Pushing Our Nation Toward Mass Mayhem

Gun Rights

I wrote about the mass-killing of children and teachers at the school in Nashville just a month ago. I will keep writing about this gun madness for as long as it takes. To support my efforts in this cause, please consider becoming a paid subscriber.

The manhunt for the suspect accused of killing four adults and a child last week in Cleveland, Texas, ended on Tuesday when a team of U.S. Marshalls, Border Patrol agents and officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety found him “hiding in a closet underneath some laundry,” according to San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers. A tip called in to the FBI hotline sent the team of heavily armed officers to a home in Cut and Shoot, Texas – yes, you read that right – where the suspect, Francisco Oropesa, 38, was arrested without incident. The manhunt had lasted for four days after the murders were committed.

Over the weekend, Gov. Greg Abbott caused something of a firestorm when he referred to the five victims of the shooting as “illegal immigrants.” On Monday, after news reports identified one of the victims, Diana Velazquez Alvarado, as having permanent residence status in the U.S., the Republican governor’s office issued a retraction. “We regret if the information was incorrect and detracted from the important goal of finding and arresting the criminal,” Abbott’s spokeswoman, Renae Eze, said. However, Abbott’s tweet calling the victims “illegal immigrants” was not deleted.

The outright madness of blatant racism clearly played a part in the deaths of the victims. After the shooting on Friday, evidence emerged that the response by the San Jacinto County Sheriff’s office was, not to put too fine a point on it, severely lacking. The husband of one of the victims, Wilson Garcia, told reporters that members of the victims’ family called 911 five times complaining about Oropesa firing his AR-15 semiautomatic rifle in his yard after 11 p.m. at night. Each time they called 911, they were told that sheriff’s deputies were on the way.

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After the shooting began inside the house, Ramiro Guzman called 911 several more times to report that people were being killed, and each time he was told that deputies were already present at the address. “Then why is he killing my family now?” Guzman told reporters he said to the 911 operator. Press requests for tapes of the 911 calls involved in the incident have not been answered. Nor has the sheriff’s office released any specific information about why they were so slow to respond to the shooting, other than a statement to reporters by Sheriff Capers that his office has only three deputies to cover a 700 square-mile area, and they responded as fast as they were able. Interviews by reporters in the neighborhood in Cleveland, Texas, where the shootings took place, revealed that police response to 911 calls by residents of that neighborhood has been slow to non-existent in the past.

Another factor in the slow response to the initial 911 calls might be the fact that people shooting their guns on their properties has become commonplace all over the country in rural areas. “Texas law affords broad leeway to people firing weapons in rural areas,” the New York Times reported yesterday. “Counties may explicitly bar shooting on smaller lots in subdivisions, but many have opted not to do so, relying instead on more general rules preventing recklessness or firing over property lines. Some rural officers may also have difficulty distinguishing between noise complaints related to legal and harmless shooting activity and those that represent potential threats.”

All of which can be summed up this way: There are so many guns out there in the hands of so many people that law enforcement officials cannot keep track of the proliferation of guns because they are prevented by state laws from doing so. Because gun ownership is so widespread, local sheriffs and town police departments don’t have the manpower to respond to every report of a gun going off.

This is the madness we have arrived at in a country with more guns than citizens.

Much is being made on conservative talk radio and on Fox News about the fact that the shooter had been deported from the U.S. four times prior to the murders last Friday. A neighbor living across the street told the Associated Press that Oropesa had lived in his house for five or six years, and that sheriff’s deputies had responded to complaints that Oropesa had fired his gun several times in the past. Conservative commentators are also all worked up by the fact that an undocumented immigrant had apparently possessed five firearms.

Which brings up another madness involved in this mass-shooting incident. The weapon used in the murders, all of which appeared to be execution-style shots to the head, was an AR-15 style semiautomatic weapon. Every recent mass killing has been committed with an AR-15 style rifle. Conservatives are pointing to the fact that the shooter had been able to obtain the deadly firearm as evidence that “gun control” doesn’t work, despite the fact that the state of Texas had no laws that could be identifiable as attempts at controlling the spread or use of firearms. Texas is a so-called constitutional carry state, meaning people can carry firearms openly or concealed without a permit.

If sheriff’s deputies had in fact responded previously to reports of Oropesa firing his AR-15 in his yard, they obviously made no attempt to take his gun away from him. Texas does not have a red-flag law that would enable law enforcement agents to confiscate a firearm from someone because, for example, that person was showing signs of using the gun to harm himself or others.

Madness multiplies in this tragic incident. Gun-rights people defend the right to own deadly military-spec guns like the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. They defend the right to use such a firearm on property you own because the land is yours, and you can do what you want on your own land. They defend the right to own high-capacity magazines for such a weapon – that would be the 30-round magazine used by the shooter. And they defend the right to buy and own as much ammunition as you want. Clearly, the shooter had plenty of ammunition on hand if he had been firing the AR-15 indiscriminately in his yard immediately before using it to kill five people in the house next door, two of them women who were found by police lying on top of little children they were trying to protect.

The shooter was undocumented. Four of the five victims were undocumented. The conservative response to these facts is as predictable as it is odious: “See? What did we tell you about these terrible immigrants who are flooding across our border?”

As for gun control, the right-wing response is identical: “See? What did we tell you about gun control laws? You can’t keep guns out of the hands of criminals. This is an example of why we gun owners need our AR-15’s to defend ourselves against criminals like the shooter in Cleveland, Texas.”

Liberals are in a situation where they’re damned if you do, damned if they don’t here, except for two facts: Yet another AR-15 style semiautomatic rifle was used in a mass killing, proving that the spread of these deadly weapons of war is and has been completely out of control. The shooter in Cleveland, Texas, could have bought his rifle from a private seller at a gun show, where he wouldn’t have been asked to show a valid ID like a driver’s license or undergo a background check that might have shown him to be in this country illegally. The other four weapons found by police in his home after the killings could have been purchased in the same way, or even stolen from a vehicle in a parking lot.

States like Texas with no-permit open carry laws have reported increasing numbers of gun thefts from parked vehicles, as well as thefts of guns from homes which have been burglarized.

The right-wing gun-nut crowd is right about at least this much, even though the laws of states like Texas are largely to blame: People can get guns if they want them. It would be just as easy for a convicted felon who has just been let out of jail to obtain an AR-15 as it was for an undocumented immigrant like the shooter in Texas.

So, where do sane people go when confronted by such a vile, explosive mix of horrible facts?

I have to tell you that I do not know. I’ve been writing and speaking out about mass-killings in this country since two grade-school boys in Jonesboro, Arkansas used one of their grandfather’s guns to shoot and kill four of their classmates and a teacher in 1998. That was 25 years ago. At that time, after writing an op ed article about the shooting in the New York Times, I appeared on the Today Show with a spokeswoman from the NRA and asked her a simple question: Did the NRA support parents teaching nine and ten year-old boys to shoot weapons at human silhouette targets at a so-called practical shooting course that taught tactical military-style firearms training?

The answer from the NRA, after some hemming and hawing, was yes, they did support teaching little kids to shoot at targets depicting human beings. I thought that day in 1998 was a nadir for the gun nuts in this country, but it’s been downhill ever since.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

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