By Dave Workman

Heroic acts are the stuff that make newspaper stories gritty, personal and attention-grabbing. Sometimes they are also heartbreaking.

On the afternoon of Feb. 24 in the courthouse square of downtown Tyler, TX, a hero named Mark Alan Wilson emerged from cover in an attempt to help victims of a madman named David Hernandez Arroyo Sr., who murdered his wife and wounded his son and three peace officers. Published accounts say Arroyo was furious over the aftermath of his divorce. He confronted his ex-wife and son in front of the Smith County Courthouse and opened fire.

That’s when Wilson, a Tyler resident for the past ten years and a hard-working community activist, emerged from a doorway and took action. In the last moments of his 52-year life, Wilson committed an incredibly courageous and selfless act by intervening in a horrific scenario that sent other people running for cover; the kind of thing for which soldiers earn medals.

The superb, detailed reports in the Tyler Morning Telegraph described what happened, and perhaps set a rare example for reporters across the country, because the Morning Telegraph focused on a fact that reporters usually omit.

Wilson, a private citizen licensed to carry a concealed handgun under Texas statute, opened fire. Reports indicate he shot Arroyo at least twice, but because the gunman was wearing body armor, the bullets didn’t drop him where he stood. Instead, Arroyo swung his rifle around and shot Wilson down. CNN and UPN mentioned it briefly. The Associated Press had it in early reports. Remarkably, even New York Newsday reported that Wilson returned fire.

Tyler authorities credit Wilson for probably saving the life of Arroyo’s wounded son. Quite possibly, Wilson’s intervention also diverted Arroyo’s attention from his other fallen victims. We will never know for certain, because Arroyo fled and was subsequently shot and killed by police several miles north of town.

The press traditionally ignores such details as Wilson’s gun. Reporters largely covered up the fact that two armed students were directly involved in stopping a gunman at the Appalachian Law School in January 2002 in Virginia. They equally “overlooked” the fact that Joel Myrick, who stopped the young gunman responsible for the Pearl, Miss. High school shooting in 1997, used a handgun he retrieved from his car, parked off campus, to do it.

Perhaps what separates Wilson’s story from the others is that he was killed. Maybe reporters were subliminally trying to discourage other armed citizens from this kind of bravery. One can only hope they were just trying to be thorough.

Wilson was not a lawman or a soldier; it was not his job to “protect and serve.” He was just a good neighbor, doing the right thing. Alas, bad things do happen to good people.

There are millions of Americans like Mark Wilson. They, too, are licensed to carry concealed handguns, and consider it the ultimate responsibility. I have yet to meet one of them who wants to be involved in a gunfight. You rarely read about such individuals getting into trouble with the law. They are, after all, the definition of “law-abiding citizens.” Their license to carry, issued only after a successful background check, says so.

Yet the press habitually leaves out references to armed citizens acting responsibly in defense of their community, unless it involves an incident in one’s home or business. They never explain why, other than to blame “space limitations.” That’s hogwash. The press simply has an aversion to reporting legal, armed intervention by private citizens, Wilson’s case being the rare exception.

Texas State Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler) put it best when he told a reporter, “Because he had his license, had his gun, got involved, stood up for what he believed in…I think he saved some lives at the courthouse Thursday.”

Contrary to what gun banners and opponents of concealed carry laws would have us believe, legally armed citizens are not vigilantes at heart. Most are just like Mark Wilson; they care about their safety and the safety of their community. Under most self-defense statutes, and many state constitutions, they have a right to intervene, perhaps even a duty. Wilson lost his life while saving others and courageously defending his neighborhood with a firearm.

Residents of Tyler were blessed by his presence. The rest of us are diminished by his loss.