Armed security in churches - should churches prepare for possible terrorist incidents?

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Gary Martin
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The recent accidental shooting and killing of a Florida pastor’s daughter at church has once again ignited the debate about whether or not guns belong in churches. As a former law enforcement officer, my unequivocal answer is “yes, they do”. When rare incidents such as this accidental shooting occur, it is important that we as a society keep things in perspective. In today’s world, it is prudent for churches to take effective steps to protect their congregations from potential violence. Incidents like this should not be used as an excuse to strip us of our rights to do so.

Churches are “soft targets” and can sometimes be tempting ones, especially to terrorists. They are not immune from having violent people coming into them and shooting at the congregation or pastor. Churches have been attacked many times in other countries by terrorists, and there have been several non-terrorist attacks on congregations here in the US as well. There is also the possibility that terrorists are making plans to hit several churches on American soil at the same time in a terror version of “shock and awe”. While such a massive attack may never materialize, it might be prudent to at least consider it as a possibility, and develop appropriate, effective responses to deal with that contingency should it occur. For more information on this threat, see these links:



Many security experts, legislators and forward thinking pastors are calling attention to this possibility and are encouraging churches to be prepared to defend themselves. Here’s one example:


Some churches and congregations struggle with whether or not it’s biblical to have armed security in churches. Here’s an essay that in my opinion makes a strong biblical case for doing so:


The one thing all church security experts agree on is that for any kind of security preparations, layered defenses are best. Those layers can involve untrained CCW permit holders up to and including professional active duty law enforcement officers. Most experts whose opinions I’ve read say that it is appropriate to have armed security guards to help minimize the damage caused by an active shooter before police can arrive. The hard reality is that a well armed active shooter can cause considerable carnage before the police show up, even with nothing more than a few semi-automatic handguns.

Churches that are designated gun free zones are at much higher risk of large scale loss of life than those that have the option of armed responders who can react immediately. Where many experts drop the ball, in my opinion, is their insistence that only active duty law enforcement serve on church security teams. Many churches don’t have active duty police officers in attendance, don’t have enough of them, or can’t afford to hire them. Even then, there is precedence for uniformed police officers doing special duty and private uniformed guards being the first ones killed in an attack. The best defense against an active shooter is to quickly meet the attack with a strong deadly force response. If the suspect has many responders to deal with he may quickly be overcome by the sheer difficulty of trying to mentally manage a highly dynamic situation like that, and of having to dodge a hail of bullets coming back at him.

Here are some resource pools where armed church security guards could be drawn from in a congregation. They are listed in order from minimum to maximum protection.

1. Members of the congregation with no prior law enforcement or military training who have concealed carry permits. In order for this group to be even minimally effective, the church needs to avoid being a gun free zone. The effectiveness of these volunteers can be greatly enhanced by having them attend formal training for church security. There are many organizations that offer it. In addition to them being more effective tactically with training, they will also be better at making good decisions. Training may also help to mitigate insurance company concerns. If however, a church is unwilling or unable to organize formal training due to budget constraints or other reasons, their CCW permit carriers should still be allowed to carry concealed so that they have at least some hope of stopping an active shooter and minimizing the loss of life before law enforcement can arrive several minutes later. This can be especially important during those times where there may be higher risk of terror incidents against churches. This may be the only option available to many small churches.

2. Current or past members of the military. Some of them may have training similar to what law enforcement officers have. And the ones who don’t may still be well prepared mentally and tactically to respond well during a real active shooter incident. Like the first group, they would also have CCW permits, but would have a higher level of training. It is likely that churches of all sizes could have members of this group in them.

3. Members of the congregation with past law enforcement experience. While their training may not be as current as active duty officers, and they won’t have the same legal immunities or arrest powers as active duty officers do, they have received training on how to handle armed confrontations. They may also have real world experience doing it from when they were active duty.

4. Plain clothed, active duty police officers. For any incident that does not involved the brandishing of a weapon, or an active shooter, it is probably best for all other responders to call them from wherever they are in the church at the time, and wait for them to arrive to handle the situation. They are the best option because they have current training, arrest powers, the legal right to detain and question, and have certain legal immunities that no civilian has. However, they need to be in sufficient numbers, and in locations within the church and parking lots where they can quickly respond.

What I’m proposing is a layered approach where as many of these resource pools that are available are involved in the security for the church. Who responds first would depend on the threat level. If it’s just a suspicious person who hasn’t yet reached the point of active shooting or brandishing a weapon, the most highly trained responders should handle it. However, if there is a sudden outbreak of active shooting, that in my opinion is an “all hands on deck” situation. Whoever is closest should respond immediately, and others should back him/her up as quickly as possible.

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Terrible news!

This was such a very terrible news. What made it worse was that it happened inside the church. Everywhere is truly dangerous nowadays. The best way to protect the lives of people living inside the church without allowing them to have firearms is to assign police near the vicinities. By the way, if you will need some legal assistance related to car accident cases, don't hesitate to call a car accident attorney Miami.

User offline. Last seen 4 years 47 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 05/31/2012
I believe that every

I believe that every institution is exposed to the same risks, churches make no exception when it comes to terrorism and crimes. It seems to me that the more we progress the higher the demand for justice. I do hope that a proper security system is implemented. Terrorists should not benefit from any form of clemency.

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Joined: 05/17/2012
Armed Security in Churches

I agree and disagree with Mr. Martin's conclusion about having armed security in churches. I have served three combat tours in Iraq and most of those were dismounted patrols in many of the large populated areas. Throughout those tours many of the places of worship that had been attacked were Sunni and Shite temples. Those two groups attacked each other in a attempt to keep the country off balanced and unstable. I did however come across two incidents of Christian churches being destroyed by terrorist groups, one of which was attacked in a attempt to kill and injury a US Coalition patrol.
Historically in the US, the major threat to Churches has always been domestic terrorist. Perhaps the most common still operating terrorist group that focuses on Churches is the Knights Party. Many modern Klan organizations, such as the Knights Party, USA, continue to focus on the Christian supremacist message, asserting that there is a "war" on to destroy "western Christian civilization."
Before we start arming ourselves in Church a in depth analysis of terrorist threats should be conducted. I am not sure of the terror threat in Campbellsville, but as a boy growing up there I do not recall any terror plots being reported, nor has my family told me of any recently. Of course in the world we live in today you can not predict that random "crazy" person.
If a decision is made to start arming ourselves in Church, a complete analysis should be conducted. The selection criteria for that individual should be done in such a format as format as Mr. Martin mentioned above. If you start putting weapons in the hands of random individuals of the church more accidental shooting like the one in Florida can occur. The choice to have armed security in church should be the final decision of the members of the church in whole, not just a handful of them. If a direct threat is known against a church then appropriate measures from law enforcement should be taken to protect said church.
I guess my final thought would be, what has happened in the world were one of the places outside your home that has always been a safe place, were you are surrounded by family and friends has become a place were we must consider arming ourselves.

Gary Martin
User offline. Last seen 4 years 33 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 08/05/2011
Gary Martin

Dear Mr. Graham,

Let me first of all thank you for the sacrifices you and your family have made serving our country, and for helping us to keep the freedoms that we have. Thank you too for your thoughtful comments and the respectful way in which you disagreed with me on the points we differ on. I will endeavor to treat you with the same courtesy and respect in my follow-up comments below. I’d like to share five comments in response.

1. What’s happening in Iraq, and past incidents in America may not be good indicators of what we can expect here in America in the future. One major mistake we made before 911 in America was a lack of imagination about how creative terrorists could be. I believe that we need to be careful not to make a similar mistake trying to anticipate what sleeper cells or lone terrorists could do here in our churches. For instance, they may target churches in smaller towns like Campbellsville precisely because they would be less likely to be prepared for it because they wouldn’t be expecting it.

2. We may not have time to wait to conduct an in-depth analysis. If Israel attacks Iran in the next few months, we may be forced to deal with this kind of a problem in our churches with whatever options we have available to us at that time.

3. Churches are public places that anyone is allowed to walk into and visit. So are malls, super stores, city, state and county parks, buses, subways, trains, etc. If someone has made a decision to arm themselves because they want to be prepared to defend themselves or their family in whatever public setting they may happen to be in, they should not in my opinion be denied that opportunity to be prepared because someone else made the decision that they can’t be. I should not need to check my personal safety at the door of any church I choose to visit or attend long term. I don’t want mall managers making a decision about whether I should be allowed to defend myself in their facility or parking lot. Neither do I want my pastor or elders making that decision for me for those times when I’m in the church or its parking lot.

I’m OK with a church creating a formal armed security team if they have the financial and people resources to do it, and I agree with you that they should be selective about who joins the team. However, I would never agree with the idea that church members or visitors to the church who aren’t on the team must be unarmed because of the existence of the security team. The security team, like the police, can’t be in all places at all times. The whole reason states allow concealed carry is because they recognize that fact, and have made the decision to allow citizens the right and capability to stop a deadly force attack on their own prior to the arrival of assistance from others. I don’t see a church as being different in that way from any other public location. In fact in the event of a war with Iran, they may actually be more dangerous places to be unarmed in than a mall.

4. I think that one issue security professionals like police officers, soldiers, etc. struggle with is believing that private citizens with little to no training can actually do well in deadly force incidents. As a result, there is a natural tendency by professionals to want to put restrictions on what private citizens can do. As professionals, we know how much training we had to go through, the extensive tactics we employ (like sound and light discipline), the defensive measures we take (like body armor) and the long list of things that can go wrong. Yet for as long as concealed carry has been allowed, private citizens do handle the situations just fine in the overwhelming majority of cases. We don’t declare cities or states “No car” zones because of people who text while driving or drive drunk and kill innocent people. To some extent we have to accept as a society a certain amount of risk when we allow citizens privileges that can be abused or misused by the rare few. Concealed carry in churches is no different. Accidents in churches are so rare that in my opinion they don’t justify declaring any church a “No gun” zone.

5. Let me head off the argument right up front that says you can just go to another church. That can sometimes be a very difficult thing to do especially if you prefer a church with conservative values. Sometimes churches that meet a family’s criteria can be very hard to find. There may be only one church within a reasonable driving distance that’s a good match. If it happens to be a “no guns” church, what is a family supposed to do if they want the ability to defend themselves from a deadly force threat? They shouldn’t be forced to go somewhere else that may not do as good of a job meeting their spiritual needs. That’s like living in a small town and saying if you don’t like the local super store or hospital, then go to another one 30 - 50 miles away.

We need to accept the reality that we live in a much different world than our grandparents did. It isn’t necessary for everyone to arm themselves. But shouldn’t we at least stay out of the way of those who choose to do so as long as they can pass their state’s concealed carry requirements? That group of people can serve as a deterrent from crime that the rest of us can benefit from. They may also be the ones who save the lives of others if they were able to stop a deadly force attack when others around them who were unprepared for it could not. Yes, some bad apples will get through the screening process, but they are far outnumbered by the responsible people who won’t cause problems, and by criminals who are carrying their guns illegally, and who victimize unarmed innocent people every day all across the nation.

Gary Martin
User offline. Last seen 4 years 33 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 08/05/2011
Examples of citizens doing well in armed confrontations

In my previous posting I mentioned the fact that private citizens normally do pretty well in armed confrontations. Since I can't edit that previous posting, I'll provide a link to a web site that supports that assertion in this posting. See http://goodguyswin.org/