Permit me to offer a few after thoughts on the Walmart shooting. First, that something like this would happen in El Paso still boggles my mind. One of the things that touches me about El Paso is how kind and generous most people are, and how different races and religions all get along, mutually respectful and generally considerate of each other.
The flip side of that is how intolerant most people here are of any kind of discrimination based on those same factors. That spirit has existed here for a long, long time but I will come back to that in a minute.
I would argue that the El Paso spirit was displayed big time in the community’s response to Antonio Basco’s appeal for support at his wife’s funeral. With no family, he was worried no one would attend the funeral of his wife of 22 years, Margie Reckard, one of the shooting victims.
By some accounts 3,000 people turned out, nearly all strangers, to offer Basco their sympathy and support. Truckloads of flowers were delivered.
We can perhaps take some small comfort in the fact that the hatred behind this tragedy was entirely imported. Which suggests a question several friends have raised: Why didn’t someone run to the Walmart gun counter, grab a shotgun and two shells and stop this atrocity?
That idea was a non-starter because that particular Walmart does not sell firearms. But even if it did, it seems likely the shooting would have ended before that could happen. Too, in the chaos and confusion, it would be difficult for most people to act on a plan like that.
Experts tell me that in cases involving active shooters, many people experience a brain freeze. They become hamstrung trying to get their heads around WHY something is happening, rather than just taking action.
And that brings up another question which is why, in view of Texas’ relatively lax gun laws and considering all of the License to Carry holders, didn’t an armed citizen intervene?
Good point. As of Dec. 31, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, there were 1,362,945 people licensed to carry a handgun in Texas, not to mention 3,700 licensed instructors.
It is possible there were license to carry holders in the Walmart crowd that did not come armed. After all, many were buying school supplies for their kids. That apparently is exactly what happened in the case of Chris Grant, the hero shot twice while throwing water bottles at the killer.
Grant told CNN that his mom is licensed and usually carries, but that she had left her .38 special at home that day because “we were only going to Walmart.”
The other possibility is there were people who were armed but chose not to intervene – or they were not in the immediate area at the time. The Texas License to Carry course does not teach aggressive tactics; rather, the mantra is walk or run away if you can.
When I first came to El Paso in 1970 for a teaching job at UTEP, I was struck by how tolerant everyone was and how well everyone seemed to get along. It didn’t seem to matter much whether you were of one race or another, protestant, Catholic, Jewish or part of the large Middle East community that settled here.
Most civic organizations were happy to welcome anyone willing to volunteer their time or money on community projects and organizations without regard to race or religion.
One of my early introductions to El Paso’s intolerance for racism and discrimination came from my old UTEP boss, the late John Middagh, who chaired the journalism department. He told me, and it is recounted in his book, “Frontier Newspaper: The El Paso Times,” what happened when a few misguided citizens tried to establish Chapter 100 of the Ku Klux Klan here in the 1920s.
The organizers were preaching “native, white, Protestant supremacy” and targeting Jews, Catholics, anti-Prohibitionists and anyone considered liberal.
While the Klan had been successful in east Texas, organizers ran headlong into a buzz saw in El Paso, with opposition especially strong from the city’s newspapers, whose editors thought we really didn’t need to be importing any bigotry.
According to Middagh, when Klan leaders tried to organize a parade, the El Paso police chief and county sheriff both said anyone participating in any masked parade would be arrested.
The Klan dropped the idea for the moment but organizing continued apace through 1922, with some of the more public Klan supporters declaring for city, county and school board offices. There were a few masked rallies and meetings but, according to Middagh, the beginning of the end came when the Times began collecting license numbers of the cars used to transport people to Klan meetings. Records were public in those days and reporters cross-matched them with the names of the car owners and published the results.
The Times also hired a reporter from out-of-town who infiltrated the group and provided additional names before he was found out. At one point, the Times city editor was beaten and his wife was threatened.
But after the names of 14 policemen showed up on the lists, District Attorney C.L. Vowell subpoenaed Klan leaders and ordered them to reveal their membership records.
Some of the cops hastily renounced their Klan membership but Mayor Charles Davis fired four police officers and announced any city employee found to be a Klan member would be summarily dismissed.
Klansmen did not give up easily but on Feb. 24, 1923, the Klan was dealt a decisive blow in City Council elections. The Times story after the election read:
“El Paso is not a Ku Klux Klan town.”
That was the word sent out by El Pasoans yesterday to the country after an election which resulted in a decisive victory for the opponents of the hooded organization.”
An accompanying editorial said the election results “represent the victory of the old El Paso spirit. There is no other explanation.”
The Klan effort in El Paso pretty much petered out after that, but I believe the spirit referenced in 1923 is alive and well today and was on display at Margie Reckard’s funeral.
Tom Fenton is a certified handgun instructor, home firearm safety instructor and Texas Department of Public Safety License to Carry instructor.