“If men with machine guns burst through those doors right now and said that they were going to kill every Christian here, would you stay or would you leave?” The speaker was the pastor of our church, my family was in attendance at a weekly Sunday service, and I was perhaps 12 years old.
Naturally, the pastor was attempting to drive home a point about faith and whether or not we considered our mortal lives to be more valuable than our immortal souls. Would we face death to remain faithful to Christ?
Of course, this was a philosophical exercise. No one in the church actually expected that men with guns would come bursting in and shoot us down. It was the early 1980’s in the United States of America. We understood that Christians were persecuted, jailed and, in some cases, killed in Communist countries, but not here, not in America. This was a soul-searching question, not a tactical test.
A Changed World
Sadly, the United States of my youth is no more and the modern world is more filled with dangers than the 12-year-old me could have imagined. The depressing reality of today is that Christians in the USA are indeed threatened by the situation that our pastor hypothesized about all those years ago. Evil men are deliberately targeting houses of worship and their goal is to murder faithful Christians.
Faithful men and women, pastors and priests, deacons and trustees, are now faced with not only attending to the care of the souls of their congregation but with protecting them from a violent and vicious evil. This evil has been cultivated in America during the last generation and been exacerbated by the addition of Christian-hating monsters imported by our Federal Government and planted in our communities.
In my youth, Church Security meant locking the doors at night and perhaps installing an alarm system to detect burglars. Today, the focus of Church Security is on designating armed men and women to protect the flock from lethal threats.
The local police or sheriff’s department could provide patrols and perhaps a uniformed officer, but only if there has been a specific, demonstrable threat. And even that form of security will be temporary.
Hiring armed security guards has been a suggested answer, but that can be an expensive proposition, particularly for smaller congregations. The presence of uniformed security guards is also off-putting to many churchgoers. We won’t even dignify suggestions that metal detectors be installed in the narthex.
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More than Guns
The most immediate, cost-effective, and unobtrusive answer to protecting the flock is to have discreetly armed members of the congregation present; ushers, trustees, deacons, etc.
Guns yes, but simply telling people to carry guns is not the ultimate answer. I know that should be blatantly obvious, but Americans have a tendency to view “having a gun” as the complete answer. It is almost as if they believe the presence of the gun will ward off evil spirits.
Firearms are tools, not good luck charms or magic talisman. If you are carrying a gun for the purpose of defense and protecting innocent lives, you need to do so with the understanding that you may actually be called upon to use said gun. The hero of the FBI Miami Shootout, Special Agent Ed Morales, when teaching new FBI cadets admonished them to think “when” I have to fight with my gun not “if” I have to fight.
Having a firearm, a concealable handgun is only one single item on the overall list of preparedness or security. There are many other aspects of being an armed citizen, the protector of innocent life, than just buying a firearm.
The gun needs to be secured to the body is such a way that it is concealed, but also accessible, from both a seated and standing position. Pocket guns seem like a great idea until you are seated or crouched down low behind cover. If you carry a gun exclusively in a pocket, try getting it out from a seated position. Better yet, kneel down behind cover and try to get it out. Pocket guns are convenient, but not the best answer.
Everyone carrying a gun in church needs to have a thorough understanding of justifiable use of force. When can you legally use a firearm to save a life? Minus such an education, many gun carriers will hesitate and second guess themselves. There is no time for second-guessing in a life and death fight.
All Church Security team members should undergo training from a professional instructor or instructors. Pick a course geared around fighting with a gun, not just a basic marksmanship class. Marksmanship, while fundamental, is not fighting.
Situational awareness is paramount and an absolute for gun carriers. However, you cannot say “situational awareness is important” and move on. This needs to be deliberately practiced. Awareness requires mental discipline and, sadly, mental discipline is not stressed in our educational systems.
Tactical considerations such as the use of cover, shot angles, addressing multiple threats, working with other good guys or partner tactics, etc. are all very important topics. When you buy a gun it does not come with the tactics required to employ it in the real world. You learn the necessary tactics.
Yes, the idea that we would need armed security in our churches is distasteful and disturbing. As uncomfortable as the thought may be, the reality of our world is that we cannot just ignore the threat. We cannot just hope it goes away.
Firearms are a critical part of the protection plan, but they are only a part of the answer. We must have educated, trained, and competent people wielding these guns if we hope to achieve our goal of protecting the innocent by stopping the evil.
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Professor Paul Markel
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This Christmas Eve will mark the tenth year that my church has had a “security” program in place. There is so much more to this then just having a few armed individuals that I often tell people that if we got rid of all our guns, it would only reduce our security posture by a couple of tenths of a single percentage point. We’ve had three incidents in this decade; two medical and and one lost child. All three incidents lead to a 911 call and our “response.” I’m happy to report that from the first incident to the third there has been tremendous improvement to our emergency responses at church. I can also say that having written the after action report (AAR) on the most recent incident, we continue to find areas for improvement. I suspect this trend will continue in the next decade an beyond.