Some years ago, before modern concealed carry laws passed in Texas, a young chiropractor named Suzanna Gratia was just finishing up her morning paperwork when her parents stopped by her office. It was a beautiful, sunny day and her mom and dad had been to the golf range together. They were getting ready to run errands down in Killeen, and wondered if she’d be willing to join them for lunch. After some persuading, she agreed — after all, one of her good friends managed the restaurant they suggested, and she hadn’t seen him in a while. So she and her mom got in her car and they followed her dad’s pickup truck to the Luby’s Cafeteria that had long been one of her favorite places to eat.
During their drive to the restaurant, Suzanna and her mother talked about plans for her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Certainly, there would be a party. But Suzanna had a secret: she and her brother were saving up money to send their parents on a trip to Hawaii to celebrate the milestone. What a wonderful surprise that would be for her parents, who were still deeply in love after all their years together.
The restaurant was packed, and the group found a table near the right side of the cafeteria. Suzanna took a seat across from her parents, facing the front windows. Her manager friend, Mark, joined them for lunch and sat next to her on her left.
Without warning, a pickup truck crashed through one of the front windows. It came completely into the building and when Suzanna looked up, she saw many injured people sprawled on the floor. As a trained medical professional, her first instinct was to go help — but as she rose from her seat, she heard the sound of a gunshot. She and her father dropped to the floor, turning the table on its side in front of them and helping her mother get down on the floor between them.
At this point, Suzanna was still trying to wrap her head around what was happening. At first, she thought the truck had crashed through the window by accident. Then, she thought it was a robbery and expected to hear someone demand that everyone put their wallets on the tables.
Now, as the man who came out of the truck began walking from one person to the next, taking aim, and pulling the trigger, she realized that it was something more sinister. In her own words, “In total, it took me about forty-five seconds to figure out this guy was just going to walk around and execute people. Forty-five seconds is an eternity.” At that time, perhaps eight people had already died. There would be more.
Suzanna expected a police officer to stop the killer. After all, law enforcement officers ate at this popular restaurant all the time. But the assailant seemed to have no opposition at all as he moved from one person to another, executing people as he went.
Here’s what happened next, in her own words:
At that point, the gunman was rounding the front of his vehicle, his right shoulder toward me, when it dawned on me, ‘I’ve got him!’ I reached for my purse that lay on the floor next to the chicken tetrazzini. I had a perfect place to prop my hand to help stabilize my little revolver on the upturned table in front of us. Everyone else in the restaurant was down, he was up, perhaps fifteen feet from me, and I have hit much smaller targets at much greater distances.
Then it occurred to me with sudden and utter clarity that, just a few months earlier, I had made the stupidest decision of my life: my gun was not in my purse any longer! I had done what many people do: I had rationalized that the chance of my needing it was slim, and the chance of getting caught with it somewhat higher. I had figured, ‘Oh, what are the odds I’ll need this thing in a crowded place in the middle of the day? If I ever need it, it’s going to be if my car breaks down on one of these dark Texas roads, out in the middle of nowhere.’ I did not want to risk getting caught with it somewhere and potentially losing my license to practice chiropractic. After all, that was my livelihood we were talking about. 1
The killer calmly continued executing people inside the restaurant as the patrons looked for ways to escape. In all, twenty-three people died on the floor of the cafeteria, and twenty-seven more were injured.
Suzanna eventually escaped from the killing field. Her parents did not.
Shot in the chest, Suzanna’s father fell in the aisle of the restaurant. Her mother crawled out of her hiding place to be with her husband of nearly fifty years during his last moments. She died kneeling in the open, cradling her husband’s head in her lap.
There may be many lessons we could learn from this personal story. Suzanna Gratia (later Suzanna Gratia Hupp) told her story to the national media, testified before Congress and several state legislatures, and served more than ten years in the Texas Legislature. She chose to focus on changing the laws to allow more good people to have the opportunity to fight back against violent attackers. That’s one lesson we could learn here and it’s one she’s given a big part of her life to teaching.
But there’s another lesson here, one that’s not about the law. It’s about the choices we make.
How many times have we — people who already have the legal right to carry — rationalized leaving the gun behind and not carrying it? It’s too heavy, it’s too awkward, it’s too much trouble, it’s going to make me look fat and unfashionable, and nothing bad ever happens around here anyway. I’m only going to eat lunch and run a few errands, maybe get my hair cut or my nails done. Not going anywhere high risk.
Among the lessons Suzanna Gratia Hupp would want us to learn from her experience, this one would be near the top of the list:
Carry your gun. It’s a lighter burden than regret.
- Quote taken from the book, From Luby’s to the Legislature: One Woman’s Fight Against Gun Control, by Suzanna Gratia Hupp. ↩