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tv   Joe Holley Sutherland Springs  CSPAN  January 10, 2021 7:00am-7:51am EST

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>> i'm the mightiermoderator sylvia foster , also covered the november 5 mass shooting incident which is what we are about to talk about and i have here with me joe holley. is a longtimetexan, former washington post reporter and pulitzer prizefinalist for his editorial on gun culture,
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law and gun tragedies in texas and we're here because he just wrote a new book . he's just offeredit called "sutherland springs: god, guns and hope in a texas town" . and in it he gets incredibly close , detailed about the mass shooting that happened in that community and then goes through and gets to know the people and we learn more about the culture of sutherland springs and how they kind of heal and recovered after the tragedy but joe, welcome. >> nice to see you again. i want to tell everybody that you and i spent more sundaes in church in sutherland springs then we could have imagined because both of us covered i guess you would say the aftermath of that horrible tragedy that those people who are nowour friends and acquaintances experienced . so we got to know each other well, sylvia working for the express news and me writing the book . she and her photographer lisa ranch has been, has done
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superb work and i came away admiring both of them. >> thank you joe, that's nice to say. there was a big swarm of media in that initial break after the shooting happened but me and lisa stuck around and so did joe and we got to diving deep and get to know the people on a more human level and from india closer perspective than most media outlets that flew in and flew out and i really respected joe for choosing that community and choosing to stick with them long after a lot of the journalists hadto move on . >> that's what we do, most of us. >> first i want to ask a basic question which is why did you want to write this book about this community and this topic? this is something you're doing outside of your work and it's not something that
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is going to necessarily -- it's not the happiest topic. this is dark stuff that happened to these people and you chose to focus on it. >> just to recall how all this happened, on that sunday i was at the texas book festival sitting in a tent, signing books and there were a lot of people and my daughter take was in the line and when she got to me she said dad, did you hear about the shooting and i had not. i was doing what you and i are doing now except in person and she said i didn't get the name of the town but she said it might have been close to lavergne,wherever that is . so when my book signing session was over, i got in
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the car and began heading back to houston and turned on satellite radio,cnn and heard about thisunfolding , horrible event . this town called sutherland springs and the more i listened more i realized i need to go find out what this and is all about so i turned south down 35 and circle around san antonio on the loop and ended up after dark in this little town that i had never heard of. i write about small-town texas and have for years buti had never heard of sutherland springs . so like you, there i was. i also realize i needed to write this story because it contained elements i have dealt with much of my professional career. i write about small towns in the column. i was an editorial writer for the houston chronicle,
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writing frequently about guns and gun culture and i had grown up in sort of a fundamentalist household. so those people were in essence my people. i knew them to some extent. so i plunged in. >> how would you describe the kind of journalist you are? >> the reason i have heard about sutherland springs is is officially a town, it's an unincorporated community east of san antonio and it has really interesting, colorful history but it's one of those towns there's one flashing yellow light it's on highway 87 between san antonio and victoria and people just pass on through for the most part, ignoring that light. they don't stop and there is no downtown. there is no courthouse or anything to make you stop. the church is sort of the
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heart of what community there is in sutherland springs and a lot of the members of first baptist church don't live in that community. they come from sabine or lavergne or for sale and they go their separate ways except for this particular church. they are like an extended family. they not only worship together on sunday mornings, they get together sunday evenings, tuesday evenings, thursday evenings for bible study . together, go on vacation together like anextended family . they are the sutherland springs community. >> the church is so tightknit and it made covering the tragedy even more devastating to feel the connections that everyone had . >> you learn quickly to be
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careful about what you say because you're probably talking to a relative of the person you're talking about . >> you said you grew up in a similar culture but what are some things you haven't considered or maybe looking at a community that was similarto yours growing up but from the outside . what did you learn about rural life or was there anything that struck you because at least for me, there was a lot that i learned from them just about that way of life? >> as i say, i grew up in a fundamental and fundamentalist community which means that the bible is there a guy in life and they take it fundamentally, literally. what the bible says is what they believe and that's how they tried to direct their life . the people of sutherland
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springs are deeply dedicated fundamentalist christians. everything about their life they try to find either some parallel or sometimes in life and i think it was even more i'm not sure what the word extreme is correct but it was intent, even more so than when i was growing up in church community that is similar to the baptist church of sutherland springs . i also i guess the other thing i learned i wasn't expecting sylvia, i don't know how you took this when you first discovered but i was surprised at how accepting they were of this horrific thing that had happened in their midst. i would have expected them fundamentalist or not to be enraged or in despair or
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committed to working for changing the gun laws but that's not what i found. >> i think a lot of people assume that the tragedy like that would change your views or maybe have compelled residents to question their belief in god.why would god do something like this or question the role of guns playing in their lives but if anything it strengthened that belief. and that was their faith was such a huge part of recovery for them. >> go ahead. >> i was going to say, do you just want to for the people who are listening explain what happened on november fifth 2017 before we talk about, get into how they recoveredfrom it ? >> first baptist church of sutherland springs at the time of the shooting was a small congregation, maybe 50
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or so people. maybe a little bit more and on that morning of november 5, 2017, 50 or so people were gathered for their sunday morning worship . and as they were beginning the service that morning, gunshots began whizzing through the flimsy wooden walls of this church building . they had no idea what it was, where they were coming from until people suddenly started getting hit with these bullets. and then a few minutes later the shooter came in from the outside, walked down i'll begin spraying bulletsright and left . and ended up killing 26 of those 50 or so people who were gathered that morning and moving many others before he walked out. so it was the largest mass shooting in texas at the time
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. >> right during their services so we talked about their recovery and it happened while they were practicingreligion . so while you were going about writing the story, what was your process and for writing it. how did you pace out the book, how did you engage with the folks toget the material you needed for it ? >> the purpose of the book and it sort of the underscoring of this book is that you can write about the tragedy. what happened that day which you did, which i did, which reporters around the world did but what i wanted to do is to explore the facts that what happened on that morning
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doesn't really go away. the pain, emotional and mental and physical radiates outward like when you throw a rock into a pool except this radiated experience doesn't go away. reporters do. we are there for a while and we go on to the next one but they are still there and i wanted to make that point that there was this community that was left to cope with this horrendous experience and to do that i had to get to know them as people, as you did. not just as statistics. the 26 who died. the 20 or so who were wounded . i had to know david callback and david williford and the workman family, the holcomb family, all those people and even for an old journalist,
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it's still difficult to take your notebook, walk up to somebody and say when you tell me about what happened that sunday morning. fortunately they were gracious people and most of them were willing to talk about it. but it's hard. >> i felt like this was a community that already was not very friendly to media and especially after the tragedy when national outlets kind of descended on his talents covered the streets. afterwards, it and especially when you're asking them about the worst day in their life, it can be hard to gain their trust so what did you do that you think made the community members open up to you and willing to talk about this, such a difficult subject and
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especially so soon afterit happens ? >> just to back up a little bit, imagine the small town there's not any traditional downtown. it's just a conglomeration of houses, mostly modest houses and suddenly on that day there are satellite trucks, ambulances, police cars and reporters . there's just a mob of people who descended on the town. >> i remember that day, my editor asked what town are you getting i could not see through allthe media . it was just like satellite trucks and cameras and other reporters like me, coming in and knocking ondoors . i couldn't even grasp it which i felt was telling. >> they were overwhelmed not only by what had happened that morning but overwhelmed by i understand why we had to doit .
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you see movies where there's this mob of reporters standing on the courthouse steps and somebody steps out of the car and here comes the mob descending on the district attorney for the politician or whoever it is. we try not to be that way yet when there is a mob of us like that, it's hard not to be that way. so i started driving to sutherland springs on sundays . i tried to be easy with them. and to get to know them and let them get to know me and for the first couple ofweeks i didn't have my notebook . i just introduced myself, talked to people and explained what i was doing. i wasn't there surreptitiously but i didn't want them to think i was descending on at about this woman i work with who is this wonderful investigative reporter and she was telling
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me one time about how when she has the time to do a story unlike sylvia was on deadline right now when she had time to do the story she just goes and sort of blends in for as long as she can until they're comfortable with her. and i remember one evening in sutherland springs after we had had supper, everybody was sitting around and members of the congregation got to talking about us, about media people and they had sort of an unofficial blacklist of reporters who had been to persistent, who had gotten things wrong and had corrected it or they just felt like they didn't trust them. and they all agreed among themselves that they just wouldn't talk to those reporters. they looked over me and said joe, it's nothingpersonal . it's just the wayit is .
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and it took a while for me to be comfortable with them and i think for them to be comfortable with me . >> i think that persistence of showing up for so much longer afterwards to meant a lot in and of itself. >> most reporters don'thave that luxury . like the express news, i was on my own and i could do it but that's the only way he couldhave worked . >> you wrote a lot about gun laws and gun culture in texas and the pulitzer finalist nomination so i'm wondering if you were surprised or not and what you took away from the fact that actually, in that county after the shooting there was an increase in applications for license to carry and the folks at the parish brought in, active shooter simulations and were actively
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trying to arm themselves. >> i was surprised initially because i thought that people who had experienced mass shootings would somehow want to change the laws. i was nacve and despite my texan this, i was nacve to that. i didn't realize the depth of their devotion for lack of a better word to their guns. almost everybody in the congregation were gun owners. they wore their guns to church. pastor frank conroy wore a pistol on his hip in the pulpit. and at first that's a bit disconcerting to see this fellow preaching with a gun on his hip and to look around you and men in the congregation are wearing guns on their hips.
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so they pointed out to me particularly the way woolford pointed out, he became known as the hero because of his actions that had it not been for him being not only arms but familiar with guns, the shooter that morning would have killed everybody else in church. so it took a while for me to get used to that culture i guess. >> stephen woolford heard the gunshots from his house nearby and ran out with his own and kind of had a shoot outbasically with the gun . and he became kind of a nra spokesman after that because that's his role. >> what stephen did, he was
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as you remember a member of the church at the time but he lived across the road and he was sleeping in the morning because he had to go to work at a hospital in san antonio where he was sort of the in-house plumber. even though he was retired he was the plumber for university hospital in san antonio. his daughter who lived with her parents, heard the sound that shewas familiar with two because she's been around guns her whole life . she mentioned something to her dad who gotup , put on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and went out there and basically confronted the shooter who had come out of thebuilding to reload . >> i think when i spoke to gun control advocates in the aftermath, there is some common ground there it comes to encouraging folks to, who carried to be well-trained
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and nra certified and sylvie is well-trained and he had his gun in a safe locked and those are all things not every gun owner practices or has like training in. i've always thought maybe that was a source of common ground. >> i think that's all trueand stephen has been around guns . he told you and i since he was six or seven years old. and he knows them well and is as you say nra certified as an instructor and having written about guns myself i wanted to make absolutely sure that i got my information right about guns because gun owners can get terribly impatient with reporters who don't knowwhat they're talking about . so i think you and i stephen at one point, i went to his house one day and asked him
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for a tutorial about guns. and so he has a veritable arsenalin his house but they are under lock and key . and i stayed in the living room and he would go back into some back room and come out with these guns and he would always as he showed it to me he saidlook at this , is it loaded, no stephen and you would explain what it did and where it came from and what was used for and so forth so he's extremely careful about his guns. and after the shooting, he was not only a hero at the nra convention because of what he did but he also became sort of a consultant and i suppose he still is to churches around the country about how they can protect themselves.
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>> i wanted to switch back to when you were first talking about it but the role of space in the community and the aftermath and the recovery process. like the church congregation grew immensely after the shooting and it grew also with a lot of folks that had family members that went to the church and some of them who passed away who decided to join and became i think around neil johnson who was staying in the band, his parents were killed in the tragedy and so what role and how important and why did that become an important part of theirrecovery ? >> i think a very few people who are members of the church left afterwards because they just couldn't bear to go back into that building or to be on the property most state and most, well almost a
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credited their belief with getting them through something that was just unimaginable and when i first started talking to people about their faith and how it had sustained them, to be honest i didn't believe them. i thought they were just trying to sort of talk to the reporter, tell him what he wants to know and he will go away but the more frequently i talk to them, the better i got to know them and i realized that their belief kept them going. i had trouble understanding as i said earlier, i would have expected them to be angry with god, with the shooter for sure, to be depressed or whatever and i know that they had gone through depression and anger and yet , it did not cause
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them to question their belief . i think i also had trouble with the idea that they would often express that somehow god either allow this to happen or as pastor frank would say, choreographed this event. this event that took his teenage daughter. i couldn't deal with that and yet i had to accept the sincerity and the depth of their belief. >> i found that to in their strength and it almost seemed like god isthis nonphysical thing which can be taken away from you . he can't be there one minute gone the rat the next.
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god is this thing that you can love and be loved by that will never go away . and i feel like they always said it was part of god's plan which in some ways is eerie to think about but in some ways i think there's a comfort to them thinking that . it's part of something bigger than we can understand but it's still all under control. >> which i had trouble understanding, i did but i also remember as you do that in the immediate aftermath, other churches and the economical counseling services in sanantonio , colleges and therapists came to sutherland springs and made themselves available and several of them told me that the faith of those people in the congregation are what kept them alive.
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that not only did it help them survive the immediate aftermath of the shooting but kept them alive in the dark days, weeks, months to follow when they would wake up in the middle of the night as david kovach used to talk about just in a panic about what happened and seeing if somebody was in that room with them and ready to shoot again or when they would wake up and remember my little girl used to be in the next room and she's not anymore. their faith kept them going. >> was it hard for you to hear them retell these stories of pain and trauma and recount the intimate details of the shooting? >> it was hard to ask the question and it was hard to listen . and you know, i would go to church in sutherland springs on a sunday morning and i would drive home thinking
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about what i heard that morning. maybe after church i would go to the picnic tables or i would go eat lunch with them and hear the stories and i would drive home thinking about what i had heard and then i would try to repeat their stories to my wife. i couldn't, it was too much. >> i really struggled with that in the months afterwards, just hearing these horrible stories and going to the funeral and visiting the graves. it's nothing compared to what they're going through but. >> me as a reporter, trying to write a book we had to make a decision about how much do we want to focus on the grizzly details because
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you have to tell the storyyet for me writing a book that was only part of the story . so i wanted people to understand, i want to readers andunderstand what they had experienced but i didn't want that to be the focal point . >> what did you want people who read the book to take away from it ? >> to take away the in sutherland springs, in midland odessa , in las vegas , and in all of these places around the country, this is in santa fe texas for example, these are communities that have been affected by mass shootings that should never have happened and affected not just at that moment but they will be affected for the rest of their lives and we need to be aware of that and do everything we can tomake sure they don't happen again .
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>> i think it's time to turn to audience questions so i'm going to see here what we've got. okay, we have a question about faith here. they asked if you could speak more about the community's faith and in particular did this experience challenge any aspects of yourfaith ? >> i had trouble understandingit . as i mentioned earlier i had trouble accepting the fact the fact that they truly did believe as deeply as they werearticulating to me . i have a friend in austin was the former head of the jewish study center at ut austin and he was reminding me that holocaust survivors often lost their faith because they could not imagine worshiping
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a god who would have allowed something like the holocaust to happen . i would have expected when i went to sutherland springs i would have expectedsomething similar to prevail in that small community . and it didn't. >> one audience member said he went to help clean up after the 7-eleven fires and experienced the clannish nature of the residence after a couple of weeks . they actually wanted to talk and tell their stories. is that a similarexperience to what you had ? >> i think that is part of the therapy that becky medical center and elsewhere employed and i also read that if a person who has been through the trauma can talk to someone else who has also
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been through the trauma, even more than official. >> it's kind of a fine line. like we're not there therapists but i think some people , they do want to talk . and it feels better to do that. a question for both of us. as journalists, how do you focus on your own mental health and recuperate whenyou have to tell challenging stories like this . >> i'm not sure i thought about that but that is a valid concern, valid consideration. my wife says i have trouble separating myself from the work that i'm doing but i suppose ideally i will go run or listen to music or talk to my kids or just get away from it. but that's not always easy to do. what about you?
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>> i remember i think it was about a month after the shooting and i hadn't going to the funerals of all these folks and this is before i knew then that well but it was nearly every day. i remember getting my heart rate seeming like it was still, you're still in that mode for this is our story and where covering and things are changing quickly and it was really, i was still pretty i think in shock mode because i had been there that first day and spoken to someone, and uncle who had had to pull the bodies of his wounded nephewsfrom the church . and i remember getting the care package with the newsroom, a care package from the sentinel and it was because they had had to cover the pulse mass shooting so they were sending us this care package to the newsroom saying we know what you've been through. be brave, be strong and there
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was light play-doh and candies and stuff i was so touched bythat . i just didn't realize how much something as simple as that, i understand what you as a journalist are going through with me because i hadn't hada chance to process i was going through something . and how never forget that. i ended up creating a facebook group called journalists covering trauma that was basically with the idea of connecting with other journalists and that had been kind of covering mass shootings specifically for journalists who'd been covering those mass shootings . >> it's a good questionand i'm glad that came up because i hadn't thought about . we are in sort of a odd situation. we are temporarily part of that community and yet we're onlookers, we are outside, sort of like anthropologists watching and yet we can't
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help but be affected by what we are learning. >> they definitely leave me more scared of mass shootings i'm quicker to think or be afraid that that's happening or that that's, sorry? >> of being in crowds, is that which areworried about now ? >> mostly in crowds and stuff but i notice my mind goes to that fact or because i just spent so much time around people who went through that and like they do i have a more visceral, visual understanding of what that looks like, how ithappens, it feels . like, the fear is there . i think having support groups like that among journalists. there's been kind of a movement in recent years i think to acknowledge the trauma that journalists go through as first responders.
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>> war correspondents have experienced it . >> let's see, why do you believe stories of this kind are important to tell? it's an audience question for you? >> because unfortunately they continue to happen and i think we have to share in the experience itself to try to figure out ways of preventing them fromhappening again . and it's the same thing i saidearlier . we need to remember that these people whether they lost family members or not are human beings who had their lives to live, they are our cell, they are our fellow human beings and we need to share with them. >> i would use that as an explanation or that's what i told folks a lot when i was trying to talk to the
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community. that's our mission, we want others to understand what they're going through and maybe do something to help others forhelp that something like that . >> i'm not sure how to say this but once you start getting to know people, asking questions, finding out about their lives and trying to tell their story, as a journalist or as a writer, you realize these are interesting people. anybody you talk to as an interesting story to tell but if you can get it down on paper and share it with the readers . it's worth knowing about. >> your bridging your readers with the folks he talked to. so we have two questions that are similar and we didn't get to talkabout this in our panel . someone wants to know what was the motive of the gun and then if the air force make any adjustments to their procedures as a result so maybe if we can talk about
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the gunman's past, their motive and what came of that. >> the gunman was 26 years old. i'm sorry if i get something confused but the gunman was 26 years old, grew up in new braunfels, went on toschool, had even more trouble in the air force . came back to the area, married a young woman who had family at the church. and as best we can sell, had some problem with his wife's family. came to the church that morning apparently to do away with his in-laws. and it seemed that he realized that the church being as close-knit as it was , he was going to have to
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shoot everybody, kill everybody that morning. go ahead, we will talk about the air force. go ahead and then we can talk about the air force, the second part of that question . >> no, you're saying for me totalk about it ? >> i thought you were going to add something to it. >> no, no. >> there were warning signs throughout his air force career that he was prone to violence and the air force did not report incidents that would have kept him from acquiring a weapon after he got out of the service and as i understand it, legislation by senator john cornyn and other procedures with the air force and the other services
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have been instituted to make sure it doesn't happen again . >> do you have any suggestions for helping students who have expressed fear of the shooting. this is coming from an audience member who lives in an area where several school shootings have occurred. >> there are district school systems that have approached it in different ways due to trying to lock down or identify potential problems. something i just found in my mind, you know tamara read in sutherland springs who is a veteran teacher and who is also sort of the resident local historian, runs the local museum.
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she was telling me at one point she knew her students so well that if she recognized something not quite right going on in that student's life, that she felt free to call up the parents and say you need to check on your daughter or check on your son so i'm not. >> sure what i'm saying beyond the fact that if we could somehow be aware where there were parents,teachers, church members , if there are problems with the young person aware enough that we could intervene and maybe something would be prevented. >> there were a lot of red flags with the gunman that slipped through the cracks and never got addressed and that speaks to mental health services to the kind of lack of services for people.
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let's see, we've got a lot more now. we will see. >> one audience member says where after a massshooting , was still timely gun control might be acceptable in the us or what else can american society do to prevent these events ? >> i have a daughter who lives in a small town in england called ely near cambridge for kids have the run of the town. they had no fear whatsoever about some kind of mass shooting everything in healy england because guns are just not part of the culture in england or in new zealand or
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canada or in japan or countries around the world. there's something about us that we need. the only hope i have that we will engage with this problem is as our culture in texas and elsewhere becomes more urbanized and guns are not an intrinsic part of the culture and maybe we can deal with the problem of mass shootings legislatively and culturally, then someday we will getpast this . >> so what are your steps that you think what practical next steps? >> the next step in texas is rather hard to take because we are not at that point where guns are not an ample part of the culture and what i would like to see for example is laws that make it difficult if not impossible
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for citizens to own military style weapons . it's controversial in this state . >> if some people in the congregation were armed why didn't they shoot backward today ? >> that's an interesting question because none of them were there this morning . pastor frank was in oklahoma city. he was qualifying to teach flint lock rifle shooting at baptist youth camps . one of the elders who always wears a gun was on his harley coming to church and passed a garage sale and he saw that hog patches were being offered, patches for harley-davidson riders so he was late, otherswere there that morning so nobody was armed . only armed person was stephen who was across the road.
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>> do you think that would have changed the outcome if folks who had been armed with their handguns were there? >> i have trouble imagining that because i think the element of surprise and firepower would have overwhelmed anybody in the congregation. who can say? i don't know. >> this is a lastquestion, someone wants to know what is the next book what are you working on now ? >> as you and i mentioned earlier i'm looking for a book that's a bit happier . one of the ones that i'm playing with has to do with a novel based on this weird incident in 1897 in a little town north texas town called aurora where an unidentified flying object hit, crashed into a window andbird .
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it's allegedly true, the dallas morning news wrote about . >> wow. jeff, thank you so much for your time. i have to say it was a real pleasure getting to know you and then to read the book that you created aboutthe community afterwards . i obviously got close to them to and to see someone dedicate that kind of time and thought to people that i got to know well, it's really great to see soi'm really thankful for that . >> thanks for your kind work. and i hope you'll read it because there's more to it than just that horrible sunday morning. >> it's the story of people who recovered andshowed a lot of resilience . and commitment to being kind and do good even after the world was so unfair to them . all right, thank you so much for tuning in.
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i really appreciate it and stay tuned i guess for the next ufo book. have a good friday. >>. >> you are watching tv on c-span2 every day with the latest nonfiction books and authors. created by america's cable television companies. today brought to you bythese television companies to provide book tv to viewers as a public service . >> during a virtual event hosted by the ronald reagan institute, republican governor larry hogan of maryland reflected on his life and political career. in this portion of the program he talked about his cancer diagnosis at the beginning of his first term as governor. >> i've only been governor
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for five months, we just won this huge overwhelming upset victory, the biggest one in the country and then i had my first legislative session after putting together an entire government. in an overwhelmingly democratic monopoly state. and we cut taxes for the first time. we balanced budget. we got rid of a $5.1 billion deficit all in the first 90 days, and bryant 60 days later got hit with this news that we came out of the blue. i was on my first trade mission to asia i was feeling really that well. i had aches and pains but i didn't think it was anything serious. the doctors came in and told me i had aggressive cancer all over my body and it ended up being almost an 18 month total battle 24 hour a day chemotherapy and i was dealing with all that while
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being governor. a brand-new governor in a tough state with a lotof things going on . i talk about this experience in my book and i think it really, i got to meet so many people. i tells all the stories about people and what it was like going through that. my first thing when i tell my family was father's day on friday, my first thought my wife and daughters and my dad was the time. he was coming over for father's day dinner at the governor's mansion and he actually took it harder than anyone. it doesn't matter how old you get, i was still to hislittle what you can keep out of trouble and protect so he cried the whole time . but i then came out and had to announce it to the whole state of maryland.
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i tried to be transparentand share it with them. and 6 million people that have put their trust in me . i had to explain to them i was going to continue trying to keep working and i worked from the hospital bed, continuing to try to run the state came out of it, thank god stronger than ever. >> to watch the rest of this program, visit our website, .. and search larry hogan or the title of his book , still standing . >> good evening and welcome to the 2020 kirkus prize award ceremony. i'm your host from kirkus reviews and i'm coming to you from the beautiful central publiclibrary in downtown austin texas . on a typical year this room would be filled with the brightest literary stars in america. the kirkus editors and staff in new york and around the country ,


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