— This article by Jerry Cates, first published on 18 May 2013, was last revised on 12 February 2017. © Govinthenews Vol. 4:5(3).
Between 1987 and 1991 I and my old friend, the late Darrel Cross, often enjoyed lunch together at the Luby’s Cafeteria at 1705 East Central Texas Expressway, in Killeen, Texas. Darrel was the administrator of a nursing home I serviced in Copperas Cove, a few miles away. He was also part owner of three more nursing homes in Killeen. All those facilities were clients of mine, and one was within hiking distance of the Luby’s Cafeteria. I paid a visit to each of those homes every month, all on the same day. A few days before each visit I’d call Darrel, and if our schedules meshed, we’d have lunch together at Luby’s that day.
We’d planned to meet there again on Friday, October 18, 1991, until fate intervened. I well remember driving by the Luby’s that Friday, not stopping but — with bowed head — remembering those whose lives had been lost and tragically torn asunder. The Luby’s Cafeteria I’d visited so many times was eerily draped in plastic sheeting that covered a shattered front window, and was surrounded by sound trucks and newscast vans that bristled with satellite antennas.
Two days earlier, on Wednesday, October 16, George Hennard — a 35-year-old unemployed merchant mariner — drove his 1987 Ford Ranger pickup truck through the front window of that Luby’s cafeteria. Mr. Hennard’s name is mentioned here, despite the sentiment expressed by Suzanna Hupp in her book “From Luby’s to the Legislature: One Woman’s Fight against Gun Control,” for reasons explained below:
Though deeply respecting Suzanna Hupp and her expressed reasons for omitting Hennard’s name in her writings, I have found it necessary, in related articles, to identify the perpetrators of such crimes — including George Hennard — specifically by name. It risks confusion not to distinguish them from their “peers.” Though all share a number of commonalities, each is unique in one way or another. Further, the distinctions that set them apart appear, at least to me, as significant as their common bonds. As a result, I have refrained from omitting Hennard’s name in this piece. It is true that identifying criminals by name may, as Hupp asserts, glorify them in the minds of some. In my opinion, however, that only applies to those who find pleasure in glorifying evil acts. For individuals who honor justice and seek to elevate mankind above the barbarity of evil, it directly connects the perpetrators by name to their evil acts and rightly heaps shame upon them. George Hennard was an evil man, who with evil intent perpetrated a crime of horrific proportions. His name will forever live in infamy in the minds of all those who were and are touched by this tragedy.
The Killeen Luby’s dining room, that Wednesday morning in October, was filled with some 140 patrons who were enjoying a leisurely lunch with friends and family members. After Hennard drove through the Luby’s front window, those patrons watched in stunned disbelief as he stepped out of his truck armed with two handguns and opened fire. In the minutes that followed, he stalked, shot, killed, and wounded as many people as time allowed. His rampage was momentarily suspended, from time to time, as he fired the last cartridge from the magazines in his pistols, but the killing and wounding resumed seconds later, the moment he’d reloaded each empty pistol with a fresh magazine from the supply he carried on his person.
Then, minutes into the carnage — on merely being wounded by an arriving armed law enforcement officer — he committed suicide. Remember that fact; it follows a common thread…
Three of those gathered in that Luby’s cafeteria when Hennard opened fire were members of Suzanna Gratia Hupp’s family. She, with her father and mother, had moments before sat down at a table to enjoy each other’s company over lunch. Within minutes Suzanna’s father and mother lay dying on the restaurant floor, inexplicable victims of a crazed gunman’s wrath. Her father Al Gratia — who was 71 years old, the age I am today (when this article was first published, 22 years later) — though unarmed, had heroically rushed the gunman in a vain attempt to overpower him and bring the slaughter to a halt. Instead, he fell fatally wounded. Suzanna, also unarmed — she’d left her pistol in her car, out of respect for the then-prevailing Texas law that prohibited ordinary citizens from carrying concealed firearms in public — saw a way to escape through a broken window. She screamed for her mother to follow, then slipped through the broken window, but once outside she realized her mom was not with her.
Ursula (Suzy) Gratia, Suzanna’s 67 year old mother, had done what many a loving wife would naturally do on seeing her husband injured and bleeding. She and Al had recently celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary. Their love for each other was even stronger now than when they’d first married. How could she leave him there, dying on the cafeteria floor? My wife and I will soon be married 45 years, and because our love for each other is so strong today I am almost certain she would behave, under similar circumstances, just like Suzy Gratia did on October 16, 1991.
On that day, with total disregard for her own safety, Suzy crawled to where her husband Al lay, wounded grievously in the chest. There, she cradled his head in her lap, comforting him with words and a tender touch as he lay dying.
The cowardly gunman, unmoved, mercilessly shot her dead.
Texas in 1991 was, like most other states in the U.S. after the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy some 28 years earlier, a huge “gun-free zone.” Gun-free zones have two important characteristics which, for those who understand how they interact, are clearly paradoxical. First, they are unguarded places where anyone — law-abiding citizens and criminals alike — can enter or leave without being frisked or otherwise checked for the presence of weapons. And, second, they are places where ordinary, responsible, law-abiding citizens are prohibited from carrying weapons for defense in public.
Only licensed, certified law enforcement officers are legally permitted to publicly carry handguns in such places. That was true then, and — for the multitude of gun-free zones that exist now — it is also true today. Further, back then many lawman — out of respect for the pervasive anti-gun mindset of the time — didn’t carry concealed firearms off-duty even though they were legally permitted to do so. Criminals and maniacs, of course, never respect the law, and on that day the Killeen Luby’s demonstrated the truthfulness of the pithy saying that “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”
Worse, there were no armed law enforcement officers in the Luby’s Cafeteria when the gunman opened fire. Fortunately, a large group of Texas lawmen were meeting in a hotel, a few blocks away, but unfortunately they’d all left their firearms in their vehicles in response to anti-gun concerns voiced by the hotel staff. It took minutes to sound the alarm that alerted them, and additional minutes for those officers to run to their vehicles, retrieve their firearms, and respond to the emergency. By that time 23 people lay dead or dying, and 20 more had been wounded, bringing another saying to mind: “When seconds count, the police are only minutes away.”
Please forgive the clichés… I try to avoid them in my writings and will keep them to a minimum here. However, the two cited above are unusually germane to the topic at hand.
In the aftermath of this horrible experience, Suzanna Hupp, whose grief over the loss of her loving parents knew no bounds, could have reacted in a number of different ways. She might have blamed the guns used during this rampage, and — following in the footsteps of Sara Brady, whose husband James had been gunned down and permanently disabled by John Hinckley, during his attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan on 30 March 1981 — she could have sought to persuade the Texas Legislature to enact a raft of more gun control laws to further restrict the ability of Texans to own, trade, sell, buy, and carry firearms.
But Suzanna didn’t blame the guns Hennard used. Instead she focused blame where it belonged, on the cowardly man who pulled their triggers. He chose to kill unarmed, innocent men and women, in a place where he knew nobody would be armed. Knowing this, Suzanna made it her goal to eliminate all the gun-free zones in America that enabled evil men like Hennard to shoot and kill others without fear that any would be able to shoot back. She knew that, had Hennard been confronted by a righteous person with a gun, he would likely have ended his carnage immediately. After all, that is exactly what he did, by committing suicide the minute an armed lawman arrived and began to return fire.
Recently Nicole Goeser, who lost her husband when a man who was stalking her shot him in another gun-free zone — Jonny’s Sports Bar in Nashville, Tennessee — published her story to emphasize, along with Suzanna Hupp, the importance of eliminating as many gun-free zones in America as humanly possible. But the messages these two brave women have for America continue to be muffled by a host of illogical messages, some of them from surprising sources.
History proves how enticing the siren song of Gun Control can be with America’s elected officials and with the family members left to grieve loved ones gunned down by cowards like Hennard. Even the likes of President Ronald Reagan, long a proud member of the NRA, and ostensibly a staunch defender of gun rights while in office (though he did little to relax the onerous gun restrictions in effect during his presidency), became a strong supporter of Sarah Brady’s gun control agenda after leaving office.
Mark Kelly, a celebrated NASA astronaut and U.S. Navy Captain, sang that very song not long after a similar shooting incident in Tucson, Arizona. That massacre took place on January 8, 2011, nearly 20 years after the massacre in the Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen. Of course, my compassion for Kelly, and for his wife, U.S. Representative Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, who was seriously wounded when a maniac by the name of Jared Loughner opened fire at Giffords’ “Congress on Your Corner,” knows no bounds. I write this despite my dismay — which also knows no bounds — at Kelly’s incongruous response to the terrible tragedy that befell his family.
Giffords had come to meet with her constituents in the parking lot of a local supermarket, and was fortunate to have survived being shot in the head at close range. Afterward Kelly, who might have taken the sensible path trod by Suzanna Hupp some 20 years earlier, chose instead to emulate Sara Brady.
Brady’s husband had been wounded and permanently disabled thirty years earlier, in 1981, from shots fired by another evil man. John Hinckley fired several shots from a handgun, in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate President Reagan, that wounded both Reagan and James Brady in the process. In the years that followed, Sarah’s misguided but highly successful campaign to tighten America’s gun laws managed to play an important part in preventing Americans from legally defending themselves from armed murderers, rapists, and robbers. As a result — in concert with America’s tragic love affair with Gun Control from 1963 to 1995 — her campaign, instead of protecting lives, led to the loss of thousands of innocent, defenseless Americans.
Oblivious to the real consequences of gun control laws, Capt. Mark Kelly blamed Jared Loughner’s guns for the grievous wounds inflicted upon his wife in 2011. He soon became a strong advocate for stronger gun control, and actively lobbied Members of Congress to craft and pass laws to restrict the ability of sane, responsible, law-abiding Americans to own, buy, sell, and trade guns. In the process he loudly accused those who oppose gun control legislation of “serving as mouthpieces for the gun lobby.”
Really? But Suzanna Hupp isn’t involved in “the gun lobby.” She wasn’t even a member of the NRA until Charlton Heston awarded her a life membership for her unstinting support of the 2nd Amendment… Nicole Goeser has no association with “the gun lobby” either…
Kelly, though, was not alone.
It is a quirk of human nature that many, if not most Americans readily accept the mistaken belief that keeping guns out of the hands of ordinary, sane, responsible, law-abiding citizens will make us safer. This belief remains strong despite the historical evidence showing how wrong it is. As a result, many who are affected by gun violence react just as Sara Brady and Mark Kelly — along with the legislatures of Colorado, Connecticut, and New York in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre — did, by supporting new laws against gun ownership and restricting the kinds of guns America’s citizens can own.
Fortunately for America, Suzanna Hupp is not an ordinary woman. She didn’t blame guns for killing her parents, but first blamed the coward who held those guns and pulled their triggers. Then, just as rightly, she blamed the legislators whose misguided laws prevented her from defending her parents from a killer’s wrath. She had the intelligence and foresight to recognize that the best response — to an evil person with a gun — is a responsible, law-abiding person with a gun.
Within months of the massacre at the Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Hupp began a fierce, unrelenting campaign to relax the gun laws Texas had in place, so that ordinary, responsible, law-abiding Texas citizens could once more carry concealed firearms in public. She knew that had she been able to pack her pistol legally in her purse that day, she would have had a better than even chance of shooting the gunman before he could have shot and killed her father and mother. She also had an ally in Texas Senator Jerry E. Patterson, who had crafted a bill, similar to one passed in Florida in 1987, to allow Texans to carry concealed firearms in public.
Suzanna’s initial efforts, in support of Patterson’s concealed carry bill, were met with stiff opposition. That opposition was of a magnitude that would have crushed anyone possessed of less than gargantuan drive and determination. We are more than lucky that Suzanna and Patterson, in combination, were not inclined to give up easily, because Texas governor Ann Richards, a Democrat and an ardent supporter of Sara Brady’s campaign to take guns out of the hands of responsible, law-abiding Americans, fought tooth and nail to prevent their initiatives from succeeding. Further, Ann Richards was famous for accomplishing almost everything she attempted.
At the time, the homicide rate in America was about as high as it had ever been in history, despite the fact that gun control laws had multiplied, year after year, following the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, almost three decades earlier. Back then, before JFK’s assassination, America’s homicide rate was low, but within a decade, directly as a result of the gun control laws hastily enacted by the U.S. Congress and the various states, the homicide rate in the United States had more than doubled.
In 1991 America’s homicide rate continued at a level near its all-time high, and few of our elected officials seemed to realize why. By 1994, that rate had not changed, as America’s gun control laws continued to prevent ordinary Americans from defending themselves from murderers in public. Governor Richards, whose record proves she didn’t know the secret to bringing that rate down, believed the best approach was to double up on the ineffective measures that preceded her, and enact even more gun control laws. She believed this despite a mountain of evidence that the only thing more gun control laws do is push America’s homicide rate higher.
But Suzanna Hupp knew better.
With extraordinary courage, and against all odds, Suzanna fought hard to overcome the hysteria then prevailing in the Texas legislature. It is no exaggeration to say that, without her tireless support and unstinting readiness to go before the media and explain in unassailable logic why the concealed carry bill was needed, it would not have passed. Though Texas legislators were more likely to sit on the fence than anything else, most Texans agreed with her, so while Ann Richards campaigned for reelection in 1994 on a platform that opposed giving Texans the right to carry concealed firearms, George W. Bush — whose campaign manager sensed, correctly, that this could be his ticket to the Texas state house — championed that right. When Bush won the election and ousted Richards from the Texas governorship, he did so largely because he promised to sign the Texas concealed carry bill.
Richards’ supporters immediately sounded the alarm. They trumpeted Sara Brady’s gun control mantra that giving ordinary, responsible, law-abiding citizens the right to carry concealed firearms in public would result in rivers of blood running in the streets. Remember that. If Richards and her supporters were correct, her prediction would have come to pass. So, what happened?
Just as Suzanna Hupp predicted, Texas homicide rates plummeted!
Within three short years the homicide rate in Texas had dropped to a rate that was lower than it had been in 1963. Coincidentally, along with Texas a number of other states also enacted concealed carry laws in the mid-1990’s, many of them spurred onward by Suzanna Hupp’s hard work. How many thousands of lives this heroic young woman has saved as a result of her stand in favor of giving responsible, law-abiding Americans the right to self-defense in a public setting has not been accurately measured, but any reasonable accounting would have to credit her with saving tens of thousands of lives since 1995. She deserves the respect and adulation of all our citizens.
Today, 18 years after Suzanna Hupp’s concealed carry bill was passed by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by then-Governor George W. Bush, we’ve come a long way. Homicide rates are the lowest they’ve been since 1910, not only in Texas but in the United States in general. But we still have a long way to go, because they are still much higher than they were during the days of the so-called Wild, Wild West.
In those days, America’s homicide rates ranged from one-third to one-fourth the rate we see today, and — from all the evidence available to those who care to study the issues (regardless of where you stand on this, there is no substitute for studying the bases for your stand, and a wealth of information is available for your perusal) — there are only two reasons why homicide rates remain this high. The first is that America still has huge areas designated as gun-free zones where sane, ordinary, responsible, law-abiding gun owners are prohibited from carrying concealed handguns. It is in those places where criminals and the mentally insane, who disregard the law when it gets in the way of their criminal or maniacal plans, take their guns with evil intent knowing there won’t be anybody present to shoot back. The second reason America’s homicide rates remain so high is that a huge percentage of America’s citizens (1) remain willfully ignorant of the virtues of gun ownership, and (2) lack the internal fortitude and willingness needed to apply lethal force, when necessary, to protect life, liberty, and property.
In many ways we’ve become a nation of pacifists, citizens who have been taught to submit to tyranny rather than stand up for our rights. The Jews in the ghettos of Europe during WW-II were, in general, strong pacifists as well, and their suffering stands for all time as a warning against the pacifistic mindset. But times are changing. The pendulum that began to swing in the direction of fewer rights, more gun-control laws, and a dimming of respect for the rights of free men and women, lost its forward momentum in 1995, largely because of the heroic work of Suzanna Hupp and those who supported her stand.
In the years since, that pendulum has begun to swing in the other direction, and every inch of progress it makes brings America’s homicide rate down. It is important that all who appreciate the elegance and simplicity of the U.S. Constitution and the 2nd Amendment work to hasten the movement of today’s pendulum further and further along the path it now travels, by educating our fellow Americans in the virtues that not only brought this nation into existence but that continue to make it a beacon to the rest of the world.
The icing on the cake will be when people of like mind with such as Sara Brady (who passed away on 3 April 2015), and who, like Mark Kelly, react incongruously to the evil that strikes near them, wake up to the fact that the push for more gun control always produces the exact opposite effect intended. When that day comes, and these outspoken activists switch their support to the correct side of these issues — to campaign for relaxed gun laws throughout this great land — peace and tranquility will once more be on the horizon.
Many, myself included, believe that day will come. If you wish it would come sooner, rather than later, the answer isn’t to stew in frustration, but to stand up and start working to make it happen, the way Suzanna Hupp did. I met with her, years ago, in her legislative offices in the State Capitol, and listened with rapt attention and dismay as she explained how difficult it was for one, often lonely, person to prepare and guide legislation through the legislative process. Our legislators need help. She explains how ordinary citizens can provide that help in her book. It is a must read for all who are moved to be part of bringing Texas back to its roots…
Thank you, Suzanna Hupp, for your courage and hard work. We owe you a debt of gratitude we can never fully repay. May God continue to bless and keep you!
- Cooper, Alexia & Erica L. Smith. 2011. Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008. U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
- Frandsen, Ronald J. 2012. Enforcement of the Brady Act, 2010. U.S. Department of Justice.
- Goeser, Nicole. 2013.Denied a Chance: How gun control helped a stalker murder my husband
- Hunt, Kasie. 2013. NBC Politics: Gun Rights Group endorses Toomey/Manchin Bill.
- Hupp, Suzanna Gratia. 2009.From Luby’s to the Legislature: One Woman’s Fight Against Gun Control
- Inside Straw Purchasing: How Criminals Get Guns Illegally. Mayors Against Illegal Guns
- Kleck, Gary, and Marc Gertz. 1995. “Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense With a Gun” Northwestern University School of Law, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, vol. 86:1
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