My wife, Gena, and I were horrified with the rest of the nation as we watched the news reports about the murderous psycho who gunned down 26 precious souls – including children and a pregnant woman – in a church just a few hours from our Texas ranch. Our prayers remain with our fellow Lone Star state neighbors and survivors in their suffering, and we know their spirits will rise again after a very long road ahead of grief recovery.
We thank God for Stephen Willeford, who lives near the church and grabbed his own gun and ran out of the house barefoot to battle the gunman. In his own words, the patriot and plumber “put some well-placed shots” through gaps in the killer’s body armor, forcing him to drop his gun, flee the scene and eventually crash and take his own life.
Though Willeford has no military background, he is an NRA instructor who knows that God has given him abilities to help in a great moment of human need and disaster. The Good Lord helped a good man with a good gun stop evil and further carnage.
Willeford explained: “I thank my God, my Lord, [that He] protected me and gave me the skills to do what needed to be done. I just wish I could have gotten there faster.”
Willeford’s courage reminds me of the bravery and sacrificial spirit of those we honored this weekend: our U.S. veterans.
According to the United States Census Bureau, today there are 20,108,332 U.S. veterans.
Consider veteran diversity, which speaks to me of American strength and solidarity:
In 2016, 1.6 million veterans were female; 11.6 percent black; 6.5 percent Hispanic; 1.6 percent Asian; 0.7 percent American Indian or Alaska Native; 0.2 percent Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; and 1.3 percent were some other race.
In 2016, 9.2 million veterans were age 65 and older, and 1.6 million were younger than age 35.
In 2016, 768,000 were still alive who served in World War II; 1.6 million served in the Korean War; 6.7 million served during the Vietnam Era; 7.1 million served during the Gulf War (representing service from August 1990 to present); and 2.4 million served in peacetime only.
And check out these following statistics to prove U.S. veterans’ courage and sacrificial service. The number of living veterans in 2016 who served during two wartime periods:
- 1,150,328 served during both periods of the Gulf War (August 1990 to August 2001 and September 2001 or later).
- 285,649 served during the Gulf War (August 1990 to August 2001) and the Vietnam era.
- 140,101 served during the Korean War and the Vietnam era
The number of living veterans in 2016 who served during three wartime periods:
- 65,562 served during the Vietnam era and both periods of the Gulf War (August 1990 to August 2001 and September 2001 or later).
- 25,703 served during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam era.
President Trump put it well this past week as he spoke in Da Nang, Vietnam, with seven present Vietnam War veterans, whom he called “great, great warriors.”
About all of our former freedom fighters, the president declared, “Our veterans are a national treasure.”
My father fought in World War II at the Battle of the Bulge. I served four years in the Air Force in South Korea, and my brother, Aaron, served in the Army on the Korean demilitarized zone. Our brother, Wieland, was killed in action in Vietnam when he walked point alone and drew out enemy fire so that others in his platoon could fight its way out to freedom. Many souls were saved on that day because of my brother’s bravery. (My 96-year-old mom wrote a chapter on each of us and our military service – and for the first time tells Wieland’s war story at length – in her new autobiography, “Acts of Kindness: My Story,” available only at ChuckNorris.com.)
My wife, Gena, and I join fellow Americans from sea to shining sea to salute all who have served and serve our great country and the cause of freedom. We also thank their families for their continued sacrifices as well. And we pray daily for those who continue to put themselves in harm’s way, and humbly bow our heads to God in profound gratitude for our fallen heroes, who gave their lives so we might live ours.
And regarding our freedoms and rights to exercise religion and bear arms, as I’ve written before, remember that faith is not an excuse to bypass self-defense. That’s not my original idea or position. It’s found in the Good Book.
As one verse says in the Jewish Scriptures: “But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat” (Nehemiah 4:9).
Jesus himself said when instructing His followers: “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36).
It reminds me of the sign near the front door of my Texas ranch. It has an engraved picture of a gun with the words next to it: “We don’t call 9-1-1.” Maybe it’s time a few churches put that sign on their doors, too.
Of course, I realize there’s much more to congregational safety than posting guards or bearing arms. As Carl Chinn, church security expert and proprietor of CarlChinn.com, which is a website “to help churches and ministries recognize the need for intentional security and to provide simple concepts for starting or improving security programs,” explained: “I have never allowed the message to be wrapped around that axle. I believe in our right to defend ourselves with a gun. When it comes to defending others, I believe in that as well, but strongly believe there should be training for that level of protection. A conceal carry license should not be the only affirmation of one’s ability to protect others in a deadly force situation. … To have folks who are intentionally ready is the best thing any organization can do.”
Our government will even provide houses of worship with free personalized threat assessments. No joke! There are more than 75 state threat assessment (fusion) centers across our country, started post-9/11 under President George W. Bush to better equip and protect our citizens. In fact, veterans are often employed by these fusion centers. If the leaders of your church or synagogue want a free personalized report, please locate the contact information for your state’s threat assessment center on the Department of Homeland Security website.
Most of all, whether to domestic killers or foreign terrorists, we must never cower to their intimidation and fear, or allow them to restrict our thoughts, freedoms and actions. Indeed, congregants everywhere need to remember that church remains one of the safest places on the planet.
Here’s how your sanctuary safety measures up to other stats, according to Christianity Today:
- The chance you will die in the next 12 months from an injury are about one in 1,681.
- In a car accident, the odds are one in 6,539
- In a plane crash, one in 502,554
- From a hornet, wasp or bee sting, one in 3,615,940
- From a lightning strike, one in 6,177,230
- From church violence, one in 18,393,327
So, don’t even flinch or hesitate to enjoy and participate in church services, especially during this holiday season. Researchers presented during a recent American Psychological Association convention how faith and church even help mass shooting survivors.
Whether we’re discussing the courage of our veterans, churches or private citizens, it’s all one more proof of what Elmer Davis, the director of the United States Office of War Information during World War II and a Peabody Award recipient, said decades ago, “This will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”
(For further assistance, I recommend a few great resources: Dana Loesch’s “Hands Off My Gun: Defeating the Plot to Disarm America.” Also, check out Carl Chinn’s website CarlChinn.com and book “Evil Invades Sanctuary,” Chapter 4 of which provides sound guidance on setting up a faith-based safety and security operation. Another great book and DVD is “Shooting Back: The Right and Duty of Self Defense,” which details how one person saved many lives in a congregation gathered in prayer. Lastly, also see my syndicated columns “Tis the season to increase church security” and “ISIS, Holy Week, and safety of U.S. churches,” for more helpful security tips.)