Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2018 after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre. In light of recent attacks on places of worship, we thought it might be a good time to revisit this excellent advice.
Sadly, America has experienced yet another maniac shooting up innocent people at a house of worship. On Saturday, a man armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle (which is NOT an “assault rifle” since it cannot fire automatically as only a true assault rifle can) and three semi-automatic pistols murdered 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue and wounded several others (including four police officers). This kind of attack on houses of worship is no longer unheard of.
Last year, the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, was attacked, with 26 killed and 20 wounded. In 2015 Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., was attacked and nine were murdered in cold blood. Christians and Jews are not the only ones targeted. Last year, a gunman invaded a mosque in Quebec City, Canada, and murdered six people. In 2012, a killer entered the Sikh temple in Wisconsin and gunned down six innocent people.
When people gather to worship, unless there are some well-thought-out security measures in place, the worshipers are going to be sitting ducks for any nut case out there who wants to come in with guns blazing. What are some specific things you and your people can do right now to harden your house of worship from an active shooter?
1. Form a security team
If you don’t already have this in place, you need to get on the phone right now and start calling people to form a security team. The people on this team must be reasonable and level-headed. You do not need some hot-tempered yahoo who wants to make a name for himself. Find people who have experience in law enforcement and seek out their advice on what areas in the church need to be physically watched, and how the building can be patrolled to keep violent people out while at the same time letting peaceful people in.
Put it down in writing that the church allows people who are licensed to carry concealed firearms on the premises, but stipulate that these people must be known and approved by the church leadership. Even though this is a dangerous, fallen world and you want protection, you still do not want to unnecessarily scare people into thinking that you must now worship in an armed camp.
Here is a great little video with some good advice about making your house of worship tougher for an active shooter to attack:
It is critical for everyone on the security team to understand that church members are the first responders. If someone gets through security and starts attacking, you cannot wait for the police to show up.
I love the police, and they are the professionals, but they cannot be everywhere at once. Seconds count. Worshipers are the first ones on the scene, so I highly recommend that you have a force of people (paid or volunteers, whatever you can do) who are well trained and licensed to carry a pistol. They should also be trained in defensive hand-to-hand tactics (not every situation calls for bullets).
Although I am a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment and I am an NRA pistol instructor and an Ohio CCW instructor, I do NOT want everyone in church armed. Many people carry who do not practice, are not good shots, and would not know what to do in a violent encounter. Personally, I prefer a small team of well-trained people who quietly carry and are known by the leadership team.
This team should undergo regularly scheduled training throughout the year. I would bring in local law enforcement and attorneys to coach them on the “use of force continuum” and where and when lethal force is justified.
NBC4 ran an excellent news report showing local police and the Fraternal Order of Police educating churches and pastors on security against an active shooter:
2. Harden the building
You want to be a hard target. You want to make it difficult for a terrorist to enter the building and start shooting or stabbing or blowing people up with a bomb vest (God forbid!).
Does your church have a fence around the parking lot? That might discourage some. I notice in front of my Sam’s Club there are large cement pillars directly in front of all the doors. Shoppers can go in and out, but it would certainly prevent someone with a truck from ramming their way into the store. Can you have something like that built in front of your place of worship? If not, how about parking large pickup trucks directly in front of all entrances?
Your house of worship may not be able to replace all windows with bullet-proof glass (it probably is not feasible for most), but if you can — do it. Lock all doors once activities have started. Maybe give some time (like 10-15 minutes) for latecomers, but then lock the doors and keep them locked until the activities are done. I know that sounds harsh, but being invaded by a terrorist with guns or bombs is pretty harsh too.
3. Monitor the perimeter
Have cameras set up around the building to monitor any suspicious activity at all times. Bad people tend to stay away or refrain from casing out the building for an attack if they know they are being filmed. Have part of your security team roving around the building while activities are taking place inside (this includes not just regular worship services, but also when Bible studies or children’s or students’ activities are taking place throughout the week). Make sure they have the ability to communicate with each other and with the police in case there is any suspicious activity.
John Correia from Active Self Protection (one of my favorite YouTube channels) discusses his seminars on how to help pastors and the leadership teams better protect their people:
4. Train your leadership in active shooter response
By that, I mean train your pastoral staff, lay leaders, and teachers in a tried and true program that works, such as ALICE training. ALICE is an acrostic naming the five responses to an active shooter: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate.
I am a certified instructor in ALICE training and have educated several people in how to respond to someone coming in with guns blazing. For a detailed discussion of what to do according to ALICE training guidelines, please check out my PJ Media article from last year. Please, get your leadership together, contact someone who is qualified to teach this, and host a seminar right away.
I never thought America would come to this point, but we are here now. If you haven’t started taking this threat seriously by now, please do so immediately.