How to Keep Your Church Safe June 23, 2009

How to Keep Your Church Safe

There have been a number of shootings at churches in the news lately — Rev. Fred Winters and Dr. George Tiller come to mind.

So how can a church protect itself from the violence?

That’s a tough question. But I don’t think this idea will help:

Traditional security measures, like metal detectors or pat-downs, might compromise that sense of sanctuary, [security consultant Vaughn] Baker said. So he proposed other, subtler methods. He suggested that churches organize undercover security teams — and recommended that some members come armed with concealed weapons.

A church is no different from a school or mall or concert — Lots of people in enclosed space. It’s difficult to prevent acts of violence in any of those places because the crimes are so unpredictable. With concealed weapons, though, you’re bound to have someone react unnecessarily, leading to even more casualties.

Plus, anyone who’s been in a church knows how many people walk in late. Can you imagine someone with a concealed weapon sitting in the pews, getting provoked every time the church door opens? He’d be freaking out every two minutes.

(Thanks to J Madden for the link!)

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  • Demetrius Of Pharos

    Bahahahahaha, George Carlin predicted this years ago.

    “I’m not worried about guns in school. You know what I’m waiting for? Guns in CHURCH! And you watch, it’ll happen too. Some nut will go fuckin’ ape-shit in a church and shoot up a bunch of parishioners and the papers will call him a “Disgruntled worshiper”. You just watch.”

  • If every parishioner packed heat while in church, there at least wouldn’t be any repeat offenders… The church might have to increase its stained glass window repair budget, though.

  • Matto the Hun

    With the blood spatter from all the shooting they might get some actual blood in that “Blood”-O-Christ-Cup. Sure it won’t be Jesus’s transmogrified/transubstantiated/transposed blood… but there will be blood.

  • zoo

    So. . . what happened to trusting God to take care of things?

  • Wait.

    He doesn’t want to compromise worshipers’ sense of security and sanctuary… so he’s going to put in teams of armed security officers?

    Yeah, that’ll help. I’d certainly feel not at all freaked out by that. Very peaceful. [/sarcasm]

  • Gah! Aren’t churches supposed to be places of peace, harmony, and all those good things?

    Considering recent events hiring a trained guard or asking a congregation member who is a cop or veteran to serve that purpose makes me uncomfortable but it’s reasonable. Having random members of the congregation who may have no firearms training let alone law enforcement experience come packing is just such a bad idea.

  • Revyloution

    I thought I would chime in as part of the gun owning atheist minority 🙂

    We have had concealed handgun licenses in many states in the US for quite some time. The statistics for accidents and overreactions are quite contrary to what you might think. The majority of all conflicts with armed citizens are resolved peacefully. Those occasions that a concealed permit holder fires his weapon have a higher certainty rating than most police departments (the person being shot is actually doing something that requires a violent response. Im not suggesting that average citizens are better than the police, as most of the situations are very different from each other)

    There is a great deal of data on crime rates and shootings for people who have carry permits. Ive yet to see a set of numbers that show us to be dangerous.

  • Am I the only one that finds the concept of an armed church to be terrifying?

  • In the spirit of the Vatican hiring Swiss Guards, perhaps churches around the country should hire law-abiding atheists to guard their premises. The congregation would be more safe with their guards being cool, collected, and rational. As opposed to being worked up into a frenzy with Old and New Testament “End of Days” prophesy and focused on an “afterlife”.

  • Maybe the churches should instill love and compassion in their parishioners instead of feeding their xenophobic tendencies and encouraging them to kill everyone so they can go to heaven.

  • Miko

    Well, it wouldn’t be as bad as the Huck Finn version.

  • Alien

    I will second Revyloution….

    In Texas, in order to carry concealed you have to have a license (CHL) from the state. In order to get a CHL, you have to go through a training course on legal uses of lethal force as well as a practical, shooting 50 rounds at a human shaped target. A certain score is required to pass the practical. Then you get fingerprinted and background checked before a CHL is issued.

    I have yet to meet a CHL carrier who is a trigger happy, paranoid, twitching constantly loon. Many carry their guns EVERYWHERE (except where prohibited by law e.g. secured airport areas, schools, courthouses…) and sitting in church with a gun versus sitting at McDonald’s with a gun isn’t going to make them twitchy from people going in and out.

  • Richard Wade

    WWJS? What Would Jesus Shoot?

    I think if everybody in the pews was packing heat, including the granny ladies with their chrome plated, laser sighted .357 magnums in their purses, then the preacher might feel a bit intimidated about confronting them on their sins, etc. He’d have his own piece, and would maybe line the pulpit with half inch plate steel.

    Only in America.

  • Philbert

    The last time I remember reading about a shooter coming up against a church security team, it didn’t end well for him. I don’t recall seeing any reports of latecomers being shot at that church. But it’s “bound” to happen, right? Hmm, sounds almost like faith.

  • Philbert

    OK maybe I phrased that a bit harshly. If not faith, then perhaps evidence-deficient reasoning 🙂

  • fsmftw

    Maybe all of you should know about the ins and outs of concealed carry before chiming in on the subject. It seems only “alien” is enlightened on the subject. Hemant, you fail to mention the 2007 case of a volunteer security guard with a concealed weapon who killed an attacker who charged into a church in Colorado Springs and started shooting. Responsible, armed, citizens save lives. After all, when something like this happens you don’t have to call them on the phone and wait 10-20 minutes for them to arrive.

  • Revyloution

    Pft. This is no fun. I was all ready with my 2nd amendment arguments.

    Instead I’ve got fsmftw, and Alien supporting me, and Jeff suggesting I go volunteer at our local church as muscle.

    I should just go troll pro gun over at Pharyngula. That’s bound to bring a fight.

  • Richard Wade

    Wait, Revyloution!
    All this stuff about pros and cons of guns in church is ignoring a much more interesting issue:

    How does carrying weapons into the House of the Lord and being prepared to kill attackers fit in with the teachings of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount?

  • Emily

    Aren’t churches and other places of worship supposed to be “safegrounds”? Like somewhere to seek shelter from violence…but if the violence is all on the inside then the whole game is changed and why even bother with churches if they are no longer safe, or “holy”?
    Well this changes everything… Why go into a church to seek peace and be forgiven for your sins when you’re too busy eyeing the suspicious dude sitting next to you making sure he won’t go crazy, with your hand on the concealed lethal weapon in your suit jacket pocket?

  • 7fta

    I’ve actually installed security cameras in a few churches. I guess god’s watching isn’t enough to deter theft or violence, and god isn’t about to give up any information about any criminals. In all cases the systems have paid for themselves in less than a year.

  • Alien

    Richard Wade,

    Of course, you will get different opinions on how that fits in with the teachings of Jesus depending on who you talk to. I can only assume you know Jesus as a lovey dovey type ;). Pro-defense Christians that want to go armed would quote Luke chapter 22 verses 36-38:

    36He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

    38The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
    “That is enough,” he replied.

    If you want to get a bit more edgy or even tongue-in-cheek and use the sermon on the mount, blessed are the meek… thinking you are important enough for God to protect certainly is NOT meek…. or “Blessed are the peacemakers” – CLEARLY a reference to the Colt Peacemaker.

  • Philbert

    I’ve actually installed security cameras in a few churches. I guess god’s watching isn’t enough to deter theft or violence, and god isn’t about to give up any information about any criminals.

    Indeed. Unless you believe in magical church-protecting force fields, it makes sense to take reality-based precautions against harm, be it from fire, theft, or homicidal mania.

  • travis

    wow what hypocrites lets make peace with MY COLT .45!

  • Richard Wade

    Thanks, that’s interesting about Luke 22, 36-38. I’m not sure what Jesus was planning to do with two swords in Roman occupied territory, but those verses don’t exactly say, “Carry these, and if anybody tries to kill you, kill him first.”

    However, it’s amazing how many different interpretations can be made from the book that is not supposed to be interpreted.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    Wow, its so strange reading the pro gun comments as a Brit.
    Over here, if you carry a gun, the cops shoot you. Thats pretty much it. We have no right to bear arms, only certain people can get away with certain guns (e.g. farmers with shotguns) and concealing a weapon makes you instantly a criminal. Hell i used to have to be very careful with martial arts weapons when i practiced.

    I’ve heard all the pro-gun arguements many times from yanks but the fact remains, the culture of widespread firearms ownership results in massive amounts of gun crime. Having people with concealed gun licences who may be entirely responsible is not the problem, the widespread availability of firearms to people who are NOT responsible is. Your murder rate is so far beyond anything in Britain and its pretty much made possible by the huge ease of acquiring a gun(the UK has a murder rate three time lower than in the states). Over here you have to have certain dubious connections to get your hands on a gun and going on a murderous rampage with a cricket bat doesn’t have quite the same lethality.

    On the matter of putting guns in churches, i’m finding this hilarious. I seem to remember something about turning the other cheek and loving ones enemies. Shooting someone dead is a pretty wacky definition of christian love.

  • BFD

    Gribble, just because YOU don’t have a problem with giving up effective self-defense doesn’t mean that those of us in the US who take an active interest in self-defense are wrong. In fact, your government is depriving you of a basic right until they make all the weapons go away.

    As far as concealed carry or open carry in church, a legally armed citizen is no threat to the public, and you pass many of them unknowingly every day. In the vast majority of cases, concealed means concealed. It is not hard to conceal a handgun on one’s person, and most states have some basic requirements to o so legally.
    For example, in Ohio (from the Ohio CC application):
    -12-hour class involving 2 hours of live fire
    -Full background check showing zero felonies, no restraining orders, and no violent offenses
    -fingerprinting with a FBI check on those
    -an affidavit affirming non-addiction to legal and/or illegal substances
    -mental competency

    Legal CC permit holders are an overwhelmingly law-abiding group, I’m not finding the study with casual search after a 12-hour nightshift, but CC permit holders were less likely to be convicted of a felony than police officers. In Ohio, as of the end of 2008, 142,732 permanent CC licenses have been issued, while 639 have been revoked … since 2004.

    When thinking about what a law-abiding citizen might do with a firearm, how about we don’t base our assumptions on movies and TV, but instead expect lawful citizens to act much the same as anyone else?

  • Raze

    Making all guns illegal all the time in the US is not going to reduce the availability of guns. And besides that, the availability of something and its use is not an indication of that thing’s “power to corrupt,” but rather an indication of underlying problems in individuals or the society as a whole. As I’m sure you’re familiar, Britain is having problems with knife crime at the moment, hence the legislation leading to those ridiculous pictures of dinner knives with “these items restricted to sale to persons of age” warnings.
    In addition, the number of “murderous rampages” with firearms in the US are actually quite low; it’s just that they are highly publicized to feed the public’s morbid fascination with such things.
    I suppose I’m just of the opinion that instead of blaming inanimate objects (guns, knives, cars, alcohol, etc.), we should shift our focus to the root problem of the mental/emotional/etc. health of the people who would use them for ill and whether these intents are individually or socially based.

  • Ron in Houston

    While I don’t share Alien’s fascination with guns, I have to admit that concealed carry in Texas is pretty benign.

    I have yet to hear of concealed carry either preventing or causing a crime.

  • Revyloution

    Alien, damit, you beat me to the quote. When I read his post, thats the exact passage I was going to post.

    gribblethemunchkin, read Thomas Jeffersons writings on the right to bear arms. Its more about a check against power, than a right of self defense. We could have a long discussion, but I would leave you with the misquote of Admiral Ito. The Emperor asked him to attack the Pacific coast of the US. He replied with something like:

    “No, I would not land an army on the US. There would be a rifle behind every blade of grass.”

  • gribblethemunchkin

    Good points all Raze and Revyloution. As i said, i’m well acquainted with the pro gun arguement. I just disagree with its conclusions.

    I agree that the lone nutcase event is a very very tiny part of the overall homicide figures, i also agree that the drive behind homicide is not availability but intent or even loss of control.
    However, i do believe that availability of firearms leads to situations where events can escalate very rapidly to murder. A violent altercation becomes very much more hazardous when guns are nearby, criminals are much more easily able to acquire firearms when a large number of the public own guns, burglary that yields weapons leads to large numbers of weapons in the hands of those with criminal intent. Of course we have guns here in Britain in the hands of our criminals but they are much harder to come by hence rarely owned, even more rarely used and punishment for owning one ensures that only those involved in really serious crime would consider keeping one handy.
    The Thomas Jefferson idea of an armed citizenry was valid in his time but is not really appropriate for a modern democracy. The American government has managed to pull all kinds of tyranical crap over the last 8 years without anyone so much as chambering a round. Likewise, its only now that a president who does not believe in the unfettered power of his office (i.e. tyranny) is in that the crazies with guns are coming out.
    Admiral Ito hit the nail on the head with his comment, indeed, thats why no one bothers invading the Swiss, Occupation would be brutal and incredibly costly. Of course, there is no way that America would be invaded anytime in the next 50 years, Americas military might is such that no nation or coalition of nations on the planet could hope to succeed. Especially given that the American military is designed to destroy other armies (i.e. works great in defense). This makes the sentiment of an armed citizenry rather unneccessary. Also, given the huge population and land area, holding America by force would be effectively impossible, even with an unarmed citizenry. More likely would be a war to damage infrastructure, generate high civilian casualities and break the back of americas strength, none of which would be resisted much by armed untrained militia of citizens. War has moved on a great deal since Jeffersons time.

    To Raze i would say that making guns illegal all the time would indeed make them much harder to come by. I’m not sure how you’d even go about implementing this in the USA but if you can’t buy a gun legally, can’t steal it from a legitimate owner and can’t do the gunshow dodge to avoid background checks, how would you acquire a gun? You would need to have contacts with rather serious criminals and most law abiding folks simply don’t have those contacts. To those crooks who do, guns would be rarer, more expensive and harder to get.
    As for the UK knife crime, yeah, its a bit of a farce really. Mostly a media scare based on poorly interprated figures (deliberately misinterpreted for good news i feel). Knives have had an age warning on them for years before knife crime raised its head much like cigarettes and booze.

    Knife crime is actually a great example (to make a quick detour) of a media cycle. Media reports knives becoming the fashion accessory of young yobs. Young yobs start carrying knives to fit in with what they perceive is the done thing for their peer group, stabbings go up, increased stabbings lead to increased media coverage, and so the cycle repeats itself.

  • KeithLM

    It’s nice to see there are some people that can address the issue of concealed carry rationally on this board. Odd that so many atheists are reacting so irrationally to it though.

    As a Texas CHL holder I can tell you that while some other CHL holders I know are a bit paranoid, they are all well versed in the rules and will not carry where it is illegal nor will they use their weapon unless lethal force is the only option. You can’t even show your weapon as a threat to someone unless you fear for your life and can justifiably use it.

    In some states it is illegal to carry in a church. That means that a psycho who wants to kill a bunch of people can go to any local church and open fire without to much risk. That’s why there’s a push to legalize it in many states now, because there have been some random shootings at different churches.

    Look into the statistics. People who have a concealed carry license are not criminals, and have used their weapons legally far more often than the rare cases of them using them illegally.

  • Alexis

    Back off. I have a ball point pen, and I’ve been trained to use it! But seriously, I remember as a pre-teen, hearing that our church’s office had been broken into and burlarized, and wondering, if god were all knowing and all powerful, how that could have happened.

  • First, I’d like to take issue with the characterization of those who carry concealed weapons as being easily provoked or freaking out. The vast majority of gun owners, and most especially those who have gone through the concealed cary permit process, are responsible and, in fact, less easily provoked when they are carrying because they recognize the awesome responsibility they wield. They typically do not react unnecessarily. To present myself as an example, I have carried a concealed firearm for twenty years. While carrying, I have been insulted, abused, assaulted, menaced, frightened and angered to the point of shaking. In all that time I have only twice even considered using my firearm (both were unprovoked physicals assaults) and only once actually drew my firearm (an unprovoked assault and battery). One presentation in twenty years is not easily provoked.

    That having been said, the calls for parishioners to bring their guns to church is, I believe, not entirely motivated by a real concern for safety. When Rev. Fred Rodriguez comments, “The Scripture says we’re living the last days,” he is clearly not talking about the fairly remote risk of an actual crime occurring but is playing up on people’s fears of the apocalypse. When Pastor Ken Pagano of the New Bethel Church in Louisville says “that there was a strong belief in God and firearms — without that this country wouldn’t be here” when calling on his parishioners to celebrate the 4th of July and the 2nd Amendment by bringing their firearms to church (and having a gun raffle and playing patriotic music), he’s not promoting safety or responsibility. He’s promoting a dominionist agenda.

    It is when these motivations are added into the concealed firearm mix that I see things getting dicey. These people are not acting out of a rational concern for safety. They are motivated by fear. They are motivated by patriotism. They are motivated by the machinations of their leaders. They are motivated by righteousness. They have ceased thinking and THAT is what makes the situation more dangerous than it could be.

  • Crux Australis

    Religious zealots with gun. What could go wrong?

  • I have no problem with people who have gone through the steps for a legal concealed carry permit. I am nervous, though, about people that conceal a handgun without going through the permitting process. It is these people that may be a little too quick to draw. Especially if motivated by religion, greed, or a grudge.

  • Add me to the list of concealed-weapon-carrying atheists. I don’t have much more to add to what others have posted already: than ccw holders are more restrained and less trigger-happy that what hoplophobes think, that carrying in church is understandable but still open to debate, and that the bible can be used to justify opposing views.

    As for Ron in Houston, here’s a blog that compiles news reports on private citizens using guns for defense.

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