Stephen Willeford and Johnnie Langendorff look unassuming enough that it seems their heroics from last year haven’t changed them. Both were at the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits, as they were two of three recipients that Anthony Imperato of Henry Repeating Arms recognized at the NRA Foundation Banquet.
Imperato recounted the story of how Willeford responded to his daughter’s news about a deranged gunman who was shooting up people at the nearby Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, last November. Willeford, who lived across from the church and knew that he likely was losing a friend or neighbor with the sound of each gunshot, quickly grabbed his AR-15 and some ammunition. Then he took up a covered position and confronted the shooter when he came out of the church.
They exchanged gunfire, with Willeford coming out on top. He wounded Devin Patrick Kelley, who later died, after a car chase involving Willeford and Langendorff.
As Willeford has said before, he never set out to be a hero. He was just in the place God intended at the right time, and the former NRA-certified firearm instructor was blessed with the ability to end a tragic situation before Kelley had a chance to reload and do more harm.
In the months since, Willeford has received more accolades than Langendorff, including getting an invitation to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address this year. And out of the attention has sprung a more vocal advocacy by Willeford for our Second Amendment rights.
A couple of days before the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits opened in Dallas last week, for example, Willeford wrote an op-ed article for the Dallas Morning News. In it, he underscored the importance of the Second Amendment and what we need to do to protect it.
“My family has lived in Sutherland Springs for four generations. We are a peaceful, God-fearing, tight-knit community. Not only did I never think such a thing could happen in my town, I also never thought I would be the guy to try and stop it,” he wrote.
More importantly, he painted a fairly accurate portrait of the typical NRA member—not the one the so-called mainstream media want outsiders to picture in their minds. “Good people in towns across Texas are NRA members, and they take their Second Amendment rights seriously. They are moms and dads, police officers, firefighters, doctors, school teachers and plumbers. When it comes to firearms, these good people — including me and my family — practice safety and responsibility above all else. We are the National Rifle Association. We are not the bad guys.”
Now, Willeford has taken his advocacy for gun rights to another level, agreeing to appear in an ad to recruit NRA members.
When he faced down Kelley, it was one man armed with an AR-15 against another man armed with an AR-15. It was one man using the rifle for evil against one man using the rifle for good. His message is simple: “It’s not the gun. It’s the heart.”
Much like Mark Vaughan, the man who stopped a madman who beheaded a coworker in Oklahoma, Willeford is another civilian who stepped up in a crisis and are living examples of the credo that the best way to stop a bad gun with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
These are people who have been recognized at NRA events, whether it be a private breakfast (Vaughan was invited as a guest to an industry breakfast where the NRA announced its Golden Bullseye awards) or at a bigger dinner, like the NRA Foundation Banquet.
These are the people Willeford described in his Dallas Morning News op-ed. These are the people of the NRA.