Sutherland Springs church hero to speak at Virginia gun rally: It's more about 'control' than safety

Stephen Willeford, who was hailed as a hero in 2017 after he confronted a shooter at a Texas church, said on “Fox & Friends” that he supports Monday's gun rights rally in Richmond, Va. and will speak to the rally-goers about the importance of standing up for the Second Amendment.

Willeford said on Monday that if he did not have an AR-15 on him at the time, he would not have been able to confront the shooter because “he had on class III body armor.”

“Class II is usually what police departments carry and class II will stop handguns,” he continued. “Class III will stop rifles.”

The former National Rifle Association instructor who lives next door to the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, grabbed his AR-15-style rifle after hearing the gunfire and went over to investigate. Confronting the shooter, Willeford shot him in the leg and torso before the gunman dropped his weapon and fled the scene in his SUV.

The attack on the church killed 26 people and injured 20 more.

“He came out, he had a tactical bulletproof helmet and class III body armor and if I had not had an AR-15, I would probably have not made it,” Willeford, who spoke from Richmond, Va., said on “Fox & Friends” on Monday.

He added, “All the police departments that were around my church, all of them are great people, they were coming just as fast as they could, but they say that they were five to seven minutes estimated behind me and my community didn’t have five to seven minutes to wait.”

Thousands of people from across the country were expected to attend the demonstration in Virginia on Monday demanding state Democrats drop a push for comprehensive gun control in the commonwealth.

SECURITY MEASURES HEIGHTENED AS THOUSANDS HEAD TO RICHMOND FOR LARGE GUN RIGHTS RALLY

In November, Democrats flipped the state Senate and the House of Delegates, giving them control of both the governor's office and the legislature for the first time in a generation.

Following his reelection, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam vowed to push through new gun control measures, saying it was a top priority for Virginia Democrats. In doing so, he angered Second Amendment advocates who believe he is trying to take away their rights.

When asked why it was important for him to be in Richmond on Monday, Willeford answered, “It's important because the people of Virginia need to know that they can't stand for these kinds of bans. Our Constitution stands against it. It shall not be infringed.”

When asked why he thinks so many people are expected to show up in Virginia to rally for the Second Amendment, Willeford said, “Because we have to.”

“That's why our founding fathers gave us the right to speak out. That's why we have freedom of press and freedom to speak and to say what we believe and the Second Amendment defends all of those rights,” he continued.

TEXAS CHURCH SHOOTING NOT THE FIRST TIME A GOOD GUY WITH GUN TAKES DOWN MASS SHOOTER

Last week, three gun control bills advanced in the General Assembly, setting the stage for a contentious showdown between gun-rights advocates and the Democratic lawmakers, who campaigned on bringing changes to the state following last year's mass shooting at a Virginia Beach municipal complex.

The bills that sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee would require background checks on all firearms purchases, allow law enforcement to temporarily remove guns from people deemed to be a risk to themselves or others, limit handgun purchases to one a month and let localities decide on whether to ban weapons from certain events. To become law, the bills would have to pass the full Senate and the House of Delegates before going to the governor for his signature.

Speaking on “Fox & Friends” on Monday, Willeford referenced a proposal introduced earlier this month, which would outlaw the operation of a privately owned indoor gun range at a building where 50 or more employees work.

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In response to that proposal, Willeford asked, “Why would you want to close down [shooting] ranges? If you’re going to have people with guns, don't you think that they should be trained to shoot properly and be safe? Why would you want to close down ranges?

“I think it's more about control than it is about the safety of the citizens. I mean, that's obviously an issue that has nothing to do with safety. They want to control,” he said.

Fox News’ Andrew O’Reilly and Barnini Chakraborty contributed to this report.