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Roar of the Crowd

Readers respond to the April 2016 special issue on guns in Texas.

By May 2016Comments

Sometimes it takes a decade to write a story. In 2006 Texas Monthly published “96 Minutes,” a searing oral history from Pamela Colloff about the 1966 UT Tower shooting. Inspired by the story, Austin-based filmmaker Keith Maitland took to interviewing many of the people in the article and spent years tracking down additional survivors from that fateful day. The resulting film, Tower, premiered at the SXSW Film Festival this past March and won the grand jury prize for Best Documentary. It was Maitland’s work on Tower that then prompted Colloff to reconnect with Claire Wilson, a survivor whom she had briefly interviewed for the oral history. And in last month’s issue, Colloff published her own story on Wilson. “The Reckoning” became an instant classic, as evidenced by the feedback below.

Gun Writes

Before I even open the magazine, I shall tell you (from your outstanding cover) how guns have shaped my culture. It means I am safe. It means I can protect others and hopefully myself. It means my state allows me the personal freedoms some states don’t. It means that when I am alone, I am not alone; I have my Sig Sauer .380 within easy reach. It means that, though I am 71 and small, I have the ability to protect myself.

May God bless Taya Kyle. And may God bless Texas!
Jaye Elizabeth Congleton, via email

Just finished your excellent articles on guns and Texans who have something to say about them. I think it is one of the most thoughtfully balanced collections of pieces I have ever read on the subject, especially in the midst of all the current rabid viewpoints on both sides of the issue. My grandfather taught me to shoot with a Remington Model 572 .22 rifle (which I still have) and to hunt birds with a single-shot Stevens .410 shotgun (which my grandson has now). I have taught my kids and grandkids who were interested, and I currently own ten guns of various types and enjoy shooting all of them.

I am proud of my Texas/border heritage, and your magazine keeps my inner Texan well nourished. Keep up the good work!
John Crouch, Cincinnati, Ohio

Were you short on ideas for the cover? Taya Kyle? Why not someone like Colion Noir, who is actually a relevant gun enthusiast and spokesman.
Kimberly Walker, via email

I noticed in your puff pieces on guns that almost everyone ended up siding with the concept that guns make us safer. From Suzanna Hupp to Taya Kyle, you had only one wholly negative page in the issue, and it was from a chaplain. You made owning guns seem family-oriented, traditional, fun, romantic, and weight-loss-producing. But you never touched on what guns are really doing in Texas. Guns are dangerous and rarely serve any true purpose in a twenty-first-century world other than to end someone’s life.
Rick Allen, via email

I threw my April issue directly into the trash. I don’t like living surrounded by guns, and I find this all-gun issue offensive. Several of my friends have done the same. My family has been in Texas since the early 1830’s, so I am not a recent import. I support guns for hunting and for in-home protection. I own a gun. I regret that you feel the need to pander to this audience. There are many issues of interest to the state that are more important.
R. H. Vaughn, via email

I picked up the guns issue at a local grocer in Brenham a couple days ago, attracted to the Dan Winters photograph on its cover. I call Pipe Creek home, but I’m in East Texas for the spring Antiques Fair in Round Top. This morning, I pulled the periodical from my nightstand, poured a cup of coffee, and tucked into the tiny farm table situated in the middle of the small room that is my home away from home. Thirty-two sentences in, my heart tightened and I wept. I have now finished this special issue, and to y’all at Texas Monthly, cheers. What a good job you have done. To Suzanna Hupp, thank you, thank you.
Jake Botter, Pipe Creek

Shocked to receive this Texas Monthly issue on . . . GUNS! Who got the creative, brilliant idea? Speaking for the many Texans who have no interest whatsoever in finding out “how [guns] shaped our culture and what they mean to the modern Texan,” let me say, we are already embedded in such a culture and have no desire to glorify it, even unintentionally. In this time and era, with all the conflicts, problems, and pain gun culture brings into our daily lives, the decision to dedicate a full issue to them is like salt in a wound, mocking any genuine effort to regain even the smallest control of this plague. The irony and sadness of the Miscellany page, about the “ten things we would have written about this month if this hadn’t been a special issue,” is even more telling. At the very least you could have chosen to attach a separate pamphlet for the die-hard lovers of guns, making it easy to trash out and saving a little of the reputation of your magazine and Texas.
Gianna Gargan, via email

Quality of Life

Hats off to Pamela Colloff for her article “The Reckoning.” Having been a history teacher for 25 years now, I long to know how people cope and overcome tragic historical events, like the UT shooting. Colloff’s story on how Claire Wilson has lived the rest of her life, with the memory of losing her unborn baby and boyfriend never very far from her mind; how she overcame the first dealings with psychiatrists, which left her with a sour taste in her mouth; to losing herself in the joy of teaching and the wilderness of the West; to her love of her adopted son—she finally seems to be at peace with the fiftieth anniversary this year. This is the kind of writing that makes this magazine great.
John T. Kennedy, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

In August 2001 I watched an episode of Dateline NBC about the 1966 sniper rampage at the University of Texas, a subject that holds special interest for me, since I came within a few feet of being injured that day. I was especially intrigued to see an interview during the show with Claire Wilson, the first of the sniper’s victims shot on the ground. For years I had wondered what happened to her after she recovered. When the show was over, I went upstairs to check my email and did a double take when I saw that Claire had read my website about the tragedy and sent me a message. During the ensuing years, we exchanged notes every once in a while, and then in 2008 she visited Austin, and my wife and I showed her around town. After hearing scattered details of her life, I told myself that her biography was a book waiting to be written. This feeling intensified when I read Elizabeth Crook’s novel Monday, Monday, which uses the shooting of a female UT student as the touchstone for its plot. To say the least, I was thrilled when my April issue of Texas Monthly arrived and I could devour Pamela Colloff’s thoroughly researched piece on Claire. It filled in many of the blanks I had wondered about over the years. I hope that Pam receives every award possible for this brilliant story about a woman who made the most of her life after a brutal turn of fate.
Forrest Preece, Austin

Kudos for a great April read. But shame on you for not putting Claire Wilson on the cover. Her story is fascinating and heartrending.
Heather Hill, Lake Jackson

Triggered Memories

James Carlos Blake’s upbringing in awe of firearms brought back memories [“With a Pistol in My Hand”]. My dairyman dad bought me my first weapon, a Remington single-shot .22 rifle, when I was twelve years old. I immediately walked down into the West Texas pasture below the dairy barn to see what game was available.

As luck would have it, a skunk appeared and succumbed to my first shot. Being quite proud of my accomplishment, I waited around for about fifteen minutes for the stink to go away and then hoisted the deceased victim by the tail and headed back to the barn to show my dad what I had done.

He was impressed but not how I intended.
Luke McDaniel, San Antonio

On Target

Bravo! Bravo! A fantastic, well-written article [“Two Sams and Their Six-Shooter”] that reminded me why I’ve been a reader for forty years: an article about Texas and Texans written by a Texan.

How refreshing! Keep it up!
Will Bogert, via email

Time Warp

Please explain. In writing about Cisco, you said, “I was happy to have spent a few hours in a Texas I remembered” [“Shop Talk”]. This was said after making the focus of the article your criticism of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump for their campaign platforms, which would have our nation live in the way that created that environment. Are you too young or too liberally inclined to understand that their campaigns pretty well take us back to those days?
Bill Petmecky, Fredericksburg

Editors’ note: In our April photo essay of Texas gun owners [“Called to Arms”], we incorrectly stated that Luis Padilla, a Buffalo Soldier reenactor, was photographed with an 1873 Springfield rifle. In fact, he was holding an 1859 New Model Sharps carbine. We regret the error.

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