Kris Workman returned to the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Dec. 17 for the first time since he was shot and paralyzed from the waist down by Devin Kelley, who killed 26 people, including an unborn child, on Nov. 5.
The next time a crazed shooter walks into a Texas church intending to kill as many people as possible for whatever reason his fevered mind creates, he might find his victims with the means to fire back.
In response to a request for his opinion from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has made it clear that people can pack loaded guns, along with their Bibles, into Texas houses of worship as long as it is approved by the church.
Patrick requested Paxton’s opinion on the issue of guns in church “so that churches may know what legal options they have to improve security in the aftermath of the Sutherland Springs tragedy.”
On Dec. 21, Paxton said in response that it is OK for licensed handgun owners to carry loaded weapons into Texas churches as long as those houses of worship don’t have posted signs banning guns in the pews.
“If a church decides to exclude the concealed or open carrying of handguns on the premises of church property, it may provide the requisite notice, thereby making it an offense for a license holder to carry a handgun on those premises,” Paxton wrote in his opinion.
“However, churches may instead decide not to provide notice and to allow the carrying of handguns on their premises. Unless a church provides effective oral or written notice prohibiting the carrying of handguns on its property, a license holder may carry a handgun onto the premises of church property as the law allows,” Paxton added.
Paxton also said that under SB 2065, which took effect Sept. 1, churches no longer had to pay state fees to form security forces. Patrick and others who back the legislation said the fee imposed a significant burden on smaller churches, like First Baptist in Sutherland Springs.
The day of the Sutherland Springs massacre, Paxton said that if there had been other people with guns inside First Baptist Church, some of those killed by Devin Kelley might be alive today.
“All I can say is in Texas at least we have the opportunity to have conceal carry,” Paxton told Fox News. “And so … there’s always the opportunity that gunman will be taken out before he has the opportunity to kill very many people.”
Barry Young, the vice president of church security ministries at Strategos International in Grandview, Mo., makes it his business to protect the safety of parishioners in churches nationwide.
Young said Strategos had conducted “intruder awareness and response training” for more than 20,000 church leaders since 2007, but demand was so overwhelming following the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church shootings the company was scheduling classes a year out.
“What happened in Texas isn’t new. It’s just larger than normal,” Young told nearly 80 people from churches across Michigan, Indiana and Illinois gathered inside the Prairie Baptist Church near Kalamazoo, Mich., for training classes in November, a week after Devin Kelley’s attack on the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church congregation.
The Oakland Press reported Young said more than 1,500 violent church attacks had been reported in America since 1999, an increase in church violence of 2,380 percent.
“I wish it was 1950 … but it’s 2017, and the American church has to change,” Young said.
Manny Garcia, the Texas Democratic Party’s deputy executive director, doesn’t think so. He quickly called for Paxton to apologize for saying armed parishioners could stop someone like Devin Kelley, who walked into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.
Garcia said churches should be “sanctuaries of peace,” a place where Texans can expect to worship in safety. Bringing more guns into a church, Garcia said, would be the wrong response to the Sutherland Springs massacre.
“Something is woefully wrong when elected officials wring their hands and suggest we can only stay safe by bringing arsenals to church,” Garcia told the Dallas Morning News. “Texans deserve more from their chief law enforcement official than inaction and willful ignorance. The answer to horrific gun violence is not more of the same. Lord knows we have already had plenty of that.”
Piers Morgan, now a host of “Good Morning Britain,” called Paxton a “brainless moron.”
Marc Anderson, a Kalamazoo man who attended the training session at Prairie Baptist in Michigan at the suggestion of his church’s pastor, has heard people close to him voice similar opinions.
Anderson’s father, also a pastor, pushed back against the idea of guns in churches, too.
But Anderson said those arguments didn’t make much sense to him.
“As a pastor, you’re responsible for the people that come,” Anderson said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with protecting the people that go there. You want them to feel safe.”