Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Monday presented the state's highest civilian honor to the 71-year-old man who stopped a gunman in a deadly shooting at a church in North Texas in December, CBS Austin reported. Abbot gave a medal of courage to Jack Wilson, who is the head of the volunteer security team at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas, near Fort Worth.

Throughout the event, Abbott called Wilson a hero, a title he has pushed back against in the weeks since the shooting.

"I feel more as a protector than I do a hero," Wilson said with the medal around his neck. "I feel very honored that God allowed me to have that capability to do what needed to be done that particular time."

When a gunman opened fire on the congregation on December 29, Wilson jumped into action and fired a single round at Keith Thomas Kinnunen, killing the 43-year-old and likely preventing further loss of life.

In an interview after the shooting, Wilson explained, "I don't feel like I killed an individual, I killed evil. And that's how I'm approaching it. That's how I'm processing."

The medal is given to civilians who display "great acts of heroism by risking their own safety to save another's life."

"So many lives were saved because of Jack Wilson's quick action, his calmness under pressure, and above all else his courage and his willingness to risk his own life to save the lives of others," Abbott said before presenting Wilson the medal. "Only God knows who is alive today because of Jack Wilson."

Throughout the ceremony, Abbott praised both Wilson's quick action and a law state lawmakers passed last session that enabled him to be armed.

Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 535, which removed restrictions from licensed gun owners for carrying inside a church.

"People aren't even safe in their churches. It's so unfortunate, and I'm sorry that we need laws like that, but we do," said state Senator Jane Nelson.

Nelson represents the district where the church shooting happened, and she is also on the Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety.

During the 2019 session, state Representative Joe Moody and state Senator Jose Rodriguez, both Democrats from El Paso, filed HB 131 and SB 157, respectively, which aimed to implement red flag laws in the state. Red flag laws allow courts to issue orders temporarily taking away guns from people deemed a threat to the public or themselves. Seventeen states and Washington, D.C., have already implemented such laws — but neither Texas bill made it out of the committee it was assigned to.

"I'm sure they'll be filed again. There are some of us very concerned about individuals' right to not be accused of something that's not accurate. We're looking at making sure whatever we pass is fair," Nelson said.

According to law enforcement officials, Kinnunen had a criminal history, which included assault and illegal possession of firearms. However, officials still have not released how he obtained the gun he used in the shooting.

Wilson said he does not believe red flag laws would have prevented the shooting.

"In fact I go the opposite. There are no safe havens," Wilson said.

First published on January 13, 2020 / 7:51 PM

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