Terrance Hopkins has seen what a bad guy with a gun can do.
The Dallas police senior corporal was downtown when Micah Xavier Johnson caught cops in the sights of his semiautomatic Russian-made AK-74 assault-style rifle on July 7, 2016, in Dallas.
On the day Hopkins calls “7-7,” Johnson massacred five law enforcement officers in an ambush-style attack at a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.
While some believe a civilian packing heat can stop a bad guy with a gun, Hopkins is skeptical.
“Since people can open carry, concealed carry in Texas, how many incidents have you seen in these mass shootings where a ‘good guy with a gun’ has ended that terror?” Hopkins, president of the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas, said.
“It’s been extremely minimal,” the 29-year veteran of the force said.
The Lone Star State’s most famous good guy with a gun is Stephen Willeford.
A former firearms instructor, the gray-bearded plumber rushed barefoot from his Sutherland Springs house with his AR-15 to fire on mass shooter Devin Kelley on Nov. 5, 2017. Kelley, 26, had just walked out of the First Baptist Church where he fatally shot 26 people with an assault-style Ruger AR-556 semiautomatic rifle.
For either open carry or concealed carry permits, residents can apply to the Texas Department of Public Safety for a License to Carry a Handgun.
They must be at least 21 years old unless active duty military, meet federal qualifications to buy a gun, pass a background check, receive training, pay required fees and submit an application and other forms.
Applicants must take four to six hours of classroom or online instruction, and one to two hours of training at a shooting range to demonstrate proficiency before a certified Texas firearms instructor.
The initial license is valid for four years, and its renewal, good for five years, does not require continuing education. The Department of Public Safety now issues the License to Carry instead of the Concealed Handgun License.
Under Texas law, a holder of a concealed carry permit also can open carry but must submit a change of address to obtain a license to carry.
Sitting behind his desk at the association’s fortress-like headquarters in central Dallas, Hopkins touched on how a “good guy with a gun” might endanger himself, gun restrictions and how law enforcement officers have become targets.
The latest twist on the lone hero who saves the day sprang from a sound bite. It has ricocheted around since shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting Dec. 14, 2012.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun,” Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president and chief executive officer, said at a news conference.
A week before, Adam Lanza, 20, fatally shot his mother in her bed with a .22 caliber Savage Mark II bolt-action rifle. He left the gun on the floor near the bed after shooting her in the head four times.
Then he drove to the school and killed 20 children and six adults with a semiautomatic Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle. The slaughter took less than 11 minutes with the AR-15 style weapon. His final act was to kill himself with a Glock 20 semiautomatic pistol. His mother had legally bought all of the guns.
Now ingrained in the psyche of gun enthusiasts, LaPierre’s famous statement adorns adult T-shirts, 100% cotton baby onesies and coffee mugs. Gun rights activists have often cited it.
What does a ‘good guy with a gun’ look like?
A good guy with a gun should mean something good, Hopkins said.
“Law enforcement is still troubled because when we show up on the scene, we don’t exactly know who the good guy is, right?” he said. “But things can happen very fast when people have guns out.”
“We may possibly shoot the good guy because, again, we don’t know.”
Police officers don’t want anybody else to be armed on the scene, he said.
“The ability to carry a gun and then operate in some of these spaces, it’s tough for law enforcement – and now you interject a civilian,” Hopkins said.
Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas, pointed to Sutherland Springs as a true example of a good guy with a gun.
“No one questions whether or not that gentleman saved lives and was able to end that attack faster,” Wilkison said.
Outside the church that day, Willeford, 57, took cover behind a pickup and exchanged gunfire with the shooter, hitting him in the leg and torso. At the outset of the gunbattle, the gunman dropped his rifle. He returned fire with a semiautomatic pistol and fled in his SUV.
Willeford enlisted a nearby pickup driver to give chase. A few minutes later, the church shooter lost control of the SUV and drove off the road. He was found dead in the vehicle with wounds including a self-inflicted gunshot. Police found two semiautomatic pistols in the vehicle, a Glock 19 and a Ruger SR22.
Wilkison thinks it takes more than strapping on a firearm to qualify as a “good guy.”
“Hopefully, it’s someone who’s well intended and … adequately trained so that there’s not an unintended consequence to operating a weapon,” he said.
This civilian “good guy” also should be mentally fit and have clear ownership to the weapon, Wilkison said.
“Ultimately, a ‘good guy with a gun’ is going to be a law enforcement professional that arrives and is able to holistically handle the situation,” he said.
How advertising plays a role
LaPierre’s sound bite is far from the only take on gun ownership.
A recent ad for a Remington rifle – bolt-action not semiautomatic – touts the weapon: “Top choice of elite military snipers, the Model 700 is unequaled in tactical precision. Whether defending freedom or pursuing big game, its out of the box accuracy is unmatched.”
An advertising campaign dating back to at least 2012 for a Bushmaster AR-15 style rifle bears the slogan, “Consider your man card reissued.”
A Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle was used in the Connecticut school shooting.
Hopkins sat silently for a moment, considering the ads.
“That’s probably disturbing to a lot of people,” he said. “It kind of plays into some of the chaos we’ve seen today, and it’s frightening.”
What about the right to bear arms?
Make no mistake. Hopkins believes in Second Amendment rights.
“But I’m for those rights with restrictions,” he said. “I don’t think military-grade weapons should be sold in the open market.”
The country has seen what those weapons can do, he said.
“You can name any one of these mass shootings,” Hopkins said. “Generally, there’s an assault rifle attached to it.”
Yet he felt no relief when Colt announced Sept. 19 that it would cease production of its semiautomatic AR-15 for consumers in what it couched as a business decision.
“It’s probably not going to make a difference because there are way too many guns out there today,” Hopkins said. “We’re kind of behind the curve.”
Kevin Lawrence of the Texas Municipal Police Association doesn’t think the answers lie at the extremes.
Prohibiting everyone from carrying a gun will never work, Lawrence, executive director of the association, said. Allowing everyone to carry one won’t, either.
What are potential solutions?
“Somewhere, we all agree there’s a threshold. We just have to figure out where that threshold is,” Lawrence said.
Texas Municipal Police Association has supported red flag laws, and lie and try legislation, but those proposals have gone nowhere in the Texas Legislature, he said.
A red flag law – also called an extreme risk protection order – allows the temporary confiscation of a person’s weapons if he or she is considered a danger, according to Texas Gun Sense. A lie and try law makes it a crime for a person who is not supposed to have a gun to get one.
At the other end of the spectrum, “constitutional carry” would allow anyone who legally has a handgun to carry it without a permit – open or concealed.
State Rep. Jonathan Strickland, R-Bedford, introduced a constitutional carry proposal, House Bill 357, this year.
But he declared the legislation dead after a gun rights activist, angry at the bill’s lack of progress, traveled to lawmakers’ homes to push the bill.
Lawrence said the mislabeled measure doesn’t garner the police association’s support, including a provision prohibiting law enforcement officers from approaching someone to ask whether he or she is legally carrying a gun.
If an officer sees “a guy armed to the teeth walking into Walmart,” residents expect police to do their job and check him out, he said.
Gun measures attractive to law enforcement might seem obvious.
“Can’t we do something to get people to quit leaving their guns in their cars unlocked?” Lawrence asked. “We need to be doing much more to educate our citizens and to advocate for responsible gun ownership.”
‘The wild, wild West’
Open carry went into effect in Texas on Jan. 1, 2016. It was at first met with dismay.
“What we thought in law enforcement was … we don’t need the wild, wild West,” Hopkins said.
Open carry also removes the element of surprise, he said.
“You don’t always want to let people know what you have,” he said. “Sometimes that’s used against you. Sometimes it’s taken away from you.”
Hopkins said by the grace of God, most gun owners still opt for concealed carry.
Guns and fallen officers
Law enforcement is by nature unpredictable.
“Anything can happen,” Steve Wesbrook, executive director of the Texas Sheriff’s Association, said. “Of course, that’s been that way from the beginning.”
Wilkison pointed out that Texas leads the nation in line of duty deaths, so many that the Texas Peace Officers’ Memorial on the Capitol grounds is nearly full of names.
The nonprofit Officers Down Memorial Page lists 1,964 such deaths in Texas, including 1,208 from gunfire.
On July 7, 2016, then Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez was just getting home when her cellphone started going crazy with text messages and calls about the shooting.
“It had been one of these 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. days, and I was just taking off my shoes,” Valdez said during an interview in her home. “When I saw that, the uniform went back on.”
She went to the command center that stayed in operation the next 32 hours.
Valdez, 72, was in her fourth term as sheriff then. Her petite stature belies the larger than life career she carved out in law enforcement. Her election to the post in 2004 as a gay Latina garnered national attention.
She resigned as sheriff in December 2017 to make an unsuccessful run on the Democratic ticket against Gov. Greg Abbott.
Sitting on a couch with her two dogs sleeping beside her on an October afternoon, Valdez looked back on that dark time in 2016.
At first, it was unknown how many snipers were taking aim at law enforcement officers, she said.
It hit her hard when it became clear a lone gunman had taken the lives of five fellow law enforcement officers.
“I remember feeling sad,” Valdez said. “Why would you hate so much that you would take it out on someone you don’t even know?”
Before the attack, some of the officers had been having a good time socializing in the crowd.
Lupe Valdez, former Dallas County sheriff, speaks about dangerous situations civilians can get into when responding to a crime with a gun. Lauren Roberts, Times Record News
“They were even joking together,” Valdez said.
Then, of course, she thought, “There by the grace of God, go I.”
“I was always in uniform. Somebody might take a shot at me, and all of us thought that,” Valdez said. “I could have been standing there.”
The names and sculptured faces of the five officers killed July 7, 2016 – considered the deadliest attack on U.S. law enforcement since Sept. 11, 2001 – adorn a memorial outside Dallas police headquarters.
Dedicated July 8 this year, the 14-foot-tall monument honors fallen Dallas police officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa and Sgt. Michael Smith, and Dallas Area Rapid Transit officer Brent Thompson.
Text on the bronze and stone memorial tells the story of the attack: A sniper ambushed unsuspecting officers leading a peaceful protest through downtown Dallas.
“Amid this chaos and terror, these brave officers ran towards the gunfire and began shielding the crowd with their bodies and moving them to positions of safety,” the text continues.
Dallas police Chief U. Renee Hall, the daughter of a fallen officer, spoke at the unveiling.
“I can think of no truer definition of a hero,” Hall, the city’s first female police chief, said. “Although we cannot match their sacrifice, it is our responsibility to match their sense of service and devotion to duty.”
Hall, who took the position in 2017, declined to be interviewed for this story through the police media relations office.
With about 600 members, the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas serves not only Dallas cops but officers with agencies such as transit police and the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department.
Hopkins has an easy manner and quick smile in his office at the association but prefers addressing issues head on.
“I know a lot of people have not dealt with what happened on 7-7,” he said. “I know some folks actually resigned based on 7-7 and not only from Dallas.”
Hopkins said that at several events over the last 10 years – not just 7-7 – law-enforcement officers have become targets.
Hopkins said mass shootings have made law enforcement officers more cautious, and, in his job particularly, he warns those who work events.
“We’re there for a visual presence/deterrent, but you cannot get lackadaisical, thinking that just because you’re there, it won’t happen,” he said.
It only takes a split second for a gunman to walk up while an officer is distracted, he said.
“And he’s got the jump on you,” he said.
What finally stopped the gunman that night, whose sniper attack evolved into a standoff? It wasn’t a “good guy with a gun.”
Police detonated a remote controlled robot armed with explosives, killing him.