Texas Church Shooting: Former FBI Agent’s Perspective

Mike Shekari/Staff Reporter

On Nov. 5 a mass shooting took place at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX leaving 26 dead and another 20 wounded. The attack comes only 35 days after the massacre at a Music Festival in Las Vegas that left at least another 59 killed and over 500 wounded. This horrible attack knocked the 1999 Columbine High School shooting off the list of top 10 most deadly shootings in modern U.S. history. However, to gain a fresh perspective, former FBI special agent and associate professor of security studies and international affairs at Embry-Riddle, Chris Bonner, weighs in with his thoughts about the First Baptist Church shooting and the possibility of another similar mass shooting happening on the university’s Daytona Beach campus.

One of the first items that were noted by Prof. Bonner is that mass shooting are increasing in regularity and severity with more coverage through a 24-hour media cycle. However, according to Bonner, the reason why is less clear. A criminologist by training, Bonner mentions several theories of why these shooters commit the acts that they do, including mental psychosis, moral disengagement, and personal gain. Unfortunately, proactively predicting who will commit these attacks and why is even more challenging to do because of restraints placed on law enforcement by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prevents intrusive surveillance without probable cause.

An interesting aspect to this case is that the shooter should not have been able to legally purchase and own a firearm due to a domestic violence conviction during a military court-martial while the killer was in the Air Force. However, the shooter obtained multiple guns due to a clerical error that caused the Air Force not to report the conviction to the FBI, which maintains a national criminal records database that arms dealers use to run background checks before firearms sales. According to Bonner mistakes like this are rare on the federal level and can be prevented by following established reporting procedures. However, a retired Air Force officer at the university who spoke on the condition of anonymity stated that mistakes like what happened with the shooters record’s “run rampant within the Air Force and the rest of the DoD.” Another alarming fact that was brought up by Bonner is that the FBI does not proactively ensure that all agencies are reporting crimes that would disqualify individuals from purchasing firearms, so it is possible for other individuals who would be otherwise excluded from firearms ownership to buy weapons due to reporting failures by local agencies as well.

Another factor that makes this case stand-out from other mass shootings is that private citizens engaged the shooter in fire-fight and then proceeded to give chase in a high-speed pursuit, which ended in the neutralization of the shooter. The men who went after the gunman, Stephen Willeford and Johnnie Langendorff, are widely regarded as heroic for their actions, but it can also be viewed as reckless and dangerous. However, according to Bonner, “they did nothing wrong in the absence of other social control,” but he would not recommend everyone to do the same because of the risks that an individual assumes in those situations.

When moving onto the possibility of a similar mass shooting happening on the campus of Embry-Riddle, Prof. Bonner repeatedly stated “yes, we are” before I could even finish a question describing Embry-Riddle as a soft target for a similar attack. However, there were two important tips given by Bonner with regards to preventing mass shootings at the university: situational awareness and the concept of “see something, say something.” Bonner described in detail how he maintains his situational awareness, which included observing the behaviors of persons inside a room, looking for entrances, exits, and possible escape routes, and never sitting with his back to a door. Bonner also emphasized how important it is to report suspicious behaviors to proper authorities because it helps build probable cause to intervene before a situation gets out of hand. However, in the event of a mass shooting at a soft target like the Embry-Riddle campus, Bonner encourages people to follow the “run, hide, fight” methodology, which was created by the State of Texas in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Videos explaining what to do using the run, hide, fight methodology can easily be found by a quick Google search. However, Bonner warns against arming yourself with a firearm at the university during an active shooter situation. Since it is against university policy. The Volusia County Sheriff Department’s tactical team will “put that person down” when they arrive. To further his point, Bonner also stated the tactical team is not going to ask a person with a gun if they are “friend or foe,” and “you assume the risk” by acting this way.