Three Survivors of Texas Church Shootings Now Running for Public Office as Gun Rights Candidates

© Julia Robinson for The Wall Street Journal

Stephen Willeford was widely hailed by supporters of the Second Amendment as the model “good guy with a gun” in 2017, when he grabbed an AR-15 rifle and pursued and shot at a gunman killing churchgoers in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Two and a half years later, the gregarious plumber has embraced the moniker Good Gun Guy Wille in speeches, church security training and now in a campaign for local county commissioner. If he wins, he wants to make Wilson County a “Second Amendment sanctuary” that would defy any restrictions state politicians might put on guns.

“I never had such a voice,” Mr. Willeford said. “Now people are willing to listen to me.”

He is one of three men in Texas touched by shootings at churches who are drawing on their experiences to run for public office in March’s Republican primaries.

Pastor Frank Pomeroy, who lost his teenage daughter and 25 other congregants in the Sutherland Springs church shooting, is challenging a popular Democratic state senator.

In North Texas, firearms instructor Jack Wilson was already a candidate for county commissioner when he took down a gunman Dec. 29 at the West Freeway Church of Christ.

They aren’t the first people to run for office after being involved in gun violence. But the Texas candidates stand out because they are using their experiences to boost gun-rights campaigns.

Mark Kelly, the husband of former Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and a former astronaut, is running in Arizona for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat, calling for greater gun control. Ms. Giffords was shot and six others were killed in a shooting spree in 2011. In Georgia, a Democratic gun-control advocate, Lucy McBath, whose son was killed in a shooting after an argument at a gas station, won a U.S. House seat in 2018.

J.T. Lewis, whose younger brother was among 26 killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, is running for Connecticut state senate as a Republican. Mr. Lewis’s platform calls for greater school safety measures, including armed guards, and he supports expanding background checks for those who want to buy guns.

Harel Shapira, a University of Texas sociology professor who does research on guns and right-wing politics, said he isn’t surprised by the campaigns in his state.

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SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth Findell