November 5, 2017 will be remembered as one of the worst church shootings in history. This latest church shooting brings to total number of people killed by church violence to 108 for the year as of today. Unfortunately, this is a new record for a single year as well.
We will never mention the name of a killer because we do not want to give any recognition, let alone encouragement, to the people that commit these violent atrocities.
As our hearts break once again, we also feel some frustration because there are things that churches can do to help prevent loss of life. Indeed, there are many options for increasing security that churches might consider, one of which, I have no doubt, is that worshipers will decide on their own, or with church consent to bring their own weapons to church.
There are pros and cons to untrained persons carrying their guns to church. The biggest downside is the possibility that well-meaning but untrained people can change an already bad incident into a more dangerous situation, even more dangerous than someone coming through the doors armed and ready to do harm. Far too many people that I refer to as “certificate holders,” people that have just enough training to get a certificate that says they can carry a gun and might shoot at a target a few times a year.
However, without the additional training it takes to learn how to respond to situations when lives are threatened, it could become a dangerous situation. That risk arises because dangerous situations, especially active shooter situations like so many we have seen, require discernment – clear-headed judgment in the moment. And time and time again active shooter and other dangerous events are over in a matter of minutes; we do not have the option to call time out while we decide what to do.
Effective responses require preparation, self-awareness and training.
Churches that don’t have a well-vetted and frequently trained safety and security team find it is less risky to have people who come with their guns stationed in their parking lots. Nearly all the past shootings could have been addressed in the parking lots before the shooter(s) even entered the building. As an armed and trained security professional, I want to make sure that if an active shooter approaches the entrances to the church then they get stopped before they can kill or maim anyone else.
Another vital element to this conversation is the mental health status of these people. Looking at the past several church massacres there were indications that something was not mentally right with these violent people. Rarely are those indicators loud and clear; more commonly it was a social media post of their activities, things they said to people that may have just been laughed off, and even threatening text messages prior to doing harm that provided subtle but clear signals.
Many churches don’t know how to handle these situations, are afraid that they might offend someone, or both. However, churches need to have a plan and implement well-designed practices by well-prepared people when there is even a hint that something is not right.
In short, it is time for churches to stop the denial. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman says this about denial:
“Denial kills you twice. It kills you once, at your moment of truth when you are not physically prepared: you didn't bring your gun, you didn't train. Your only defense was wishful thinking. Hope is not a strategy. Denial kills you a second time because even if you do physically survive, you are psychologically shattered by your fear, helplessness and horror at your moment of truth.”
There are three kinds of people. The Sheep, the Wolf, and the Sheepdog. My friend Lt. Col Dave Grossman puts it this way “If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior.”
Lt. Col. Grossman goes on to say “Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn't tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports in camouflage fatigues holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, "Baa."
I think that one of Lt. Col. Grossman’s most significant ideas speaks to the importance of being prepared mentally and physically.
“If you want to be a sheep, then you can be a sheep and that is okay, but you must understand the price you pay. When the wolf comes, you and your loved ones are going to die if there is not a sheepdog there to protect you. If you want to be a wolf, you can be one, but the sheepdogs are going to hunt you down and you will never have rest, safety, trust, or love. But if you want to be a sheepdog and walk the warrior's path, then you must make a conscious and moral decision every day to dedicate, equip and prepare yourself to thrive in that toxic, corrosive moment when the wolf comes knocking at the door.”
Fortunately, there was a Sheepdog across the street from the church on Sunday November 5, who despite taking fire himself, was willing to fire back and then follow the wolf and hunt him down, to ensure that he was not going to harm anyone else.
Finally, the most important thing a church can do is to prepare and if they feel they are prepared then train and then train some more. YOU WILL NOT RISE TO THE OCCASION, YOU WILL SINK TO THE LEVEL OF YOUR TRAINING.
Being prepared means removing the opportunity for someone to do harm. Proverbs 22:3 tells us “A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.” Even Jesus foresaw danger for the disciples in Luke 22:36 “But now,” he said, “Take your money and a traveler’s bag. And if you don’t have a sword, sell you cloak and buy one!”
We are passionate about getting churches of all sizes prepared. Contact us so that we can start a conversation on how to best make Church Safety and Security a reality for your church. Doing nothing denies the realities of our time, ignores the dangers that the wolves visit upon us, but you don’t have to do it on your own.
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