I want to start this article by saying that it is sad to have to write an article about the many concerns about the use of guns in church.
Whether it is from the standpoint of someone coming to cause a problem with a gun in a church or those called to protect the church from these types of situations, we are clearly talking about something new in the area of everyday church life. As I do church protection seminars in different parts of the country we cover a vast number of subjects dealing with church safety. Everything from aggressive friendliness to zero tolerance. There is always, however, one subject that people want to talk about to which I cautiously comply and that is this subject of guns and churches.
The subject of gun violence is the most televised and spoken about subject when it comes to church crime and security. The good news is that although the statistics on gun violence in church are constantly rising, the chances of it happening are still relatively low. Consider this, there are approximately 350,000 churches in America. In the last 20 years in approximately 350,000 churches there have been less than 800 deaths on faith-based properties. The other side of that reality is that in that same number of years more people have been killed on faith-based properties than in public schools. Yet many churches still struggle with the idea of having a church security or safety team to help protect its congregants.
One final statistic is that although gun violence in church is relatively rare, it is most definitely increasing. In 2004 there were only 3 deaths by guns on faith-based properties. By 2017 that number skyrocketed to 117. Again this should not send panic through houses of worship, but rather cause a legitimate concern for developing methods and strategies to protect individual churches, their leaders and their people.After hearing all these statistics our response to guns in churches should be measured and cautious. Here are five things to consider in your defense against gun violence in churches.
CHURCHES ARE CONSIDERED PRIVATE PROPERTY
That being said, every church has the ability to make the rules for who is allowed to carry a gun in church. Churches should have clear written policies on who can carry, how often and what are their qualifications to carry inside the building or on the property. I would advise churches to put notices for this in their weekly bulletins, as well as posting things in public places for people to see. Obviously these rules and policies are for the law-abiding people and not those with intent on doing harm. This is why we must be able to spot those individuals with the intent on doing harm early in the game so that we are preventing these types of problems and not cleaning them up.
THE BUSINESS OF GUNS IN CHURCHES
There are multiple issues caused by a gun going off in your church and not one of them are good! In fact, if someone comes in your church to cause harm that is almost the simplest issue to deal with as that person was not an invited guest and he is considered a criminal looking for victims. Some of the other situations considered can be a Good Samaritan looking to stop an active shooter and in doing so shoots other people along with the shooter or your own team hitting the wrong target. Under high stress and adrenalin situations it is sometimes hard to know how people will react.
Questions you should be asking yourself if your security team is armed are: does my insurance company know I have people carrying firearms and would they be covered in the event they shot someone? Also would any of the victims be covered for either an accidental wound by a good guy or one caused by an active shooter? Are the people in your church carrying firearms licensed and trained in shooting or are they weekend plunkers? All these questions will come to light in a court case if a gun goes off in your church even if it’s to stop a criminal from an act of violence.
I often hear Pastors brag about how many members of the congregation are carrying guns. The last thing you want in a church is a shoot out at the O-K Corral. Bottom line is know who is carrying in your church, make sure their training is current and have some type of policy as to who can carry! Check with your insurance company and church lawyer to make sure all your team is covered as well as innocent bystanders in case something unforeseen happens.
KNOW YOUR STATES GUN LAWS
The freedoms that our country gives us through the second amendment, differs from state to state. As a Pastor, it is important to know what the gun laws of your state are as they can help set some of the parameters you intend for your church. If for instance you live in New Jersey, there are only two types of people that can carry guns in a church. Either you are some type of current or ex-law enforcement officer such as Police, Parole, Probation, or FBI, which usually allows you to legally carry wherever you go. The other people that can carry in your church though not legally, are those you do not want to. That means either those meaning to do harm or those who are illegally carrying a gun and can cause all types of legal trouble even if they decide to get involved in a situation where they actually are of help. In the litigious society we live in today, lawsuits always are an option even for those guilty of a crime.
FEMA DIRECTIONS FOR ACTIVE SHOOTER SITUATIONS
While the US government has been known to take thousands of pages to write a simple bill or tax code, when it comes to active shooter situations, however, they have actually managed to keep it simple. Basically you have three options if a shooter should enter your sanctuary or faith-based property.
The first option is run. While in many ways running can help in say an office building or mall, in a sanctuary your options are usually very limited with everyone running in the same direction to the same couple of exits. The second option is hide. Again this may be a lot easier to do in an office building or mall that is filled with many individual rooms or stores floors etc. However, places to hide in a sanctuary are very limited indeed and this is probably not a great option. The final option is fight. This may be the best option in a church setting as the church family made up of individual families will all be very protective of each other and especially the young people. Their bond of love will cause people to do courageous things to protect those they love.
Once again I will say that when it comes to church security it must be pro-active not re-active. The idea is always to try to stop the problem before it happens.
Many times that is possible with a diligent safety team that works together for the good of the church family. Noticing unusual behavior, dress or attitude in the parking lot can go a long way toward mitigating a problem in the sanctuary.
ANY TIME A GUN IS USED IN CHURCH FOR ANY REASON IT IS NEVER GOOD
In closing, I would say that every church should begin to look into how to make their church a safer place on every level. It is wise to use every advantage and strategy to stop a problem like this before it starts. Harden the target of your church by having a team of men and women who work together to watch and pray as well as be on the ready for any type of criminal behavior.
Church Security the New Frontier Part 5
By: DR. Andrew P Surace
Dr. Surace is a seasoned Pastor with over 35 years of ministry. He is trained as an EMT and executive protection specialist specializing in church safety and security. He along with co-Author Eric Konohia are authors of a book on the subject of church security entitled “Securing the Sacred”. It is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble as well as in bookstores around the world. To contact Dr Surace about doing a church protection seminar at your church or in your area he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org