Talk of need for weapons in churches in a Texas town where firearms are a way of life.

Many of Sutherland Spring's residents had just learned, mostly by word of mouth, the names of the people slain or wounded at the First Baptist Church, and the horror unleashed by a gunman was too fresh for anyone to process fully.

But one thing was emphatically clear: These Texans weren't about to embrace gun control.

This is a small town where people carry firearms as routinely as they wear boots. They carry them out of sight, tucked in a waistband or in a pocket like a wallet. Or they carry them openly.

"There are lots of guns in the community. Most people own guns in Texas," Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt said. "But guns don't kill people, people kill people."

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The gun rights community has long had a favourite saying: The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. What happened on Monday offered for that community a resounding echo of their belief.

A local man - described by officials as "our Texas hero" - who lives near First Baptist grabbed his own weapon and shot gunman Devin Patrick Kelley outside the church, forcing him to flee. Then the man, Stephen Willeford, with another resident, Johnnie Langendorff, got in a vehicle and chased Kelley at high speeds. Kelley was found dead in his vehicle on the side of a road about 16km from the church. He had been hit twice - in the leg and the torso - and also had a self-inflected gunshot wound, according to his autopsy.

What some people were saying yesterday was that the massacre could have been stopped sooner had the worshippers in the church been carrying.

The attack could signal that a change is needed, said Brandy Johnson, 68, an evangelical minister. Even in a church service in a one-stoplight town, someone should be tapped to be on the lookout for trouble, she said.

"I think there should be some designated watchers and some designated firearm carriers." Pastor A.T. Tor, 39, saw this as a spiritual crisis rather than one involving powerful
firearms.

"I don't think this is a gun issue. I think it is a condition-of-the-heart issue. If this was a gun issue, you'd have this way more. Think about how many people around here have guns. It is the person behind the gun."

Resident Mike Jordan, 50, has a tattoo on the right side of his lower leg that he said embodies everything he stands for: two smoking 1847 Colt Walkers beneath a state of Texas. For rural Texans like Jordan the weapons are not just symbols of self-reliance, they're a way of life.

"What happened in that church should show everybody that it's not a gun problem, it's a people problem," said Jordan, whose grandson was nearly shot by Kelley. "A screwdriver in the hands of the wrong person can be a deadly weapon."

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Kevin Langdon, a retired teacher, carries multiple guns.

Langdon's neighbours, who have formed an unofficial watch programme, all own rifles, he said. "Everyone has everyone else's back, and guns are how we keep one another safe." But it was a man with local ties, not a stranger, who ended up being the greatest danger to the community. "If everyone was armed with a gun in that church, how many people would've been killed?" Langdon said. "Probably zero."

Stephen Willeford, right, hugs Johnnie Langendorff during a vigil for the victims. Photo / AP
Stephen Willeford, right, hugs Johnnie Langendorff during a vigil for the victims. Photo / AP