On December 29, 2019, a madman shot and killed two innocent people inside West Freeway Church of Christ before he was shot and killed by Jack Wilson, an NRA instructor and former reserve deputy sheriff. This all took place in a little over 6 seconds. Soon after the shooting, Democratic Presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg stated “It’s the job of law enforcement to have guns and to decide when to shoot. You just do not want the average citizen carrying a gun in a crowded place.” I am not sure what planet Mr. Bloomberg lives on but unfortunately, he is wrong. We would all love to have our own personal bodyguards like Mr. Bloomberg has, but according to The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ (BJS) report  that came out in September 2019, on average the response time on 911 calls involving violent crimes is 10 minutes. If Jack Wilson had not reacted in less than 6 seconds and they waited on law enforcement to show up, more people would have probably died that day.
If we take a moment and study the entire BJS report, one of the more disturbing statistics is 63.5% of response times to a violent crime can take from 6 minutes to 1 hour before law enforcement arrives. Most attacks are well over by the time 1st responders arrive on the scene. I don’t know about you but if the average response time is 10 minutes and I only have seconds to save myself, one of my family members or an innocent person, I am taking action. I will be happy to articulate my actions when the police arrive.
If we take a look at the November 5, 2017 shooting at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church. What most churches don’t know the shooter went into the church, shot everyone that was there, then the shooter went back out to his vehicle to reload. The shooter then came back inside the church a second time and started to execute those that were still alive. As he was heading outside another time, possibly to get more ammo and continue killing people, he was confronted by Stephen Willeford. Stephen Willeford is also an NRA firearms instructor and “good guy with a gun” who had the presence of mind, training and alertness to see the shooter had on a ballistic vest with no side panels. That is where Stephen placed his first shot. Stephen Willeford’s intervention caused the shooter retreated to his truck and attempt to flee. If not for Stephen Willeford’s actions, responding from his home across the street from the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church more people would have died that day.
So when we discuss why we really need guns in churches, I remind people to look at the national average of response time for first responders arriving at a violent crime. Remember BJS reported the average response times on 911 calls involving violent crimes is 10 minutes. Clint Smith, President and Director of Thunder Ranch, said, "When seconds count, the cops are just minutes away." The shooting in White Settlement was over in less than 15 seconds because of an armed safety team. According to Julie Workman, a survivor of the shooting in Sutherland Springs Baptist Church, it was 15 minutes before the first responder came into the church after the shooter had left and the massacre had stopped. This reason alone gives you enough justification to have armed safety team members in your church.
When your church decides to form its’ own safety team here are a couple of suggestions. Look for current and retired law enforcement officers or military personal who attend your houses of worship. Enlisting the assistance of these individuals will help more rapidly create the safety team ministry. Remember this is a ministry like any other ministry in your church and should be considered as such. Speak to current or retired law enforcement or military personal about running the safety team or being at least an advisor due to their training. Enlisting persons who may already have training and experience that qualifies them for safety team members makes sense from a safety as well as a liability standpoint. When the church takes on the duty of providing security-type services, it must do so “reasonably,” and from a liability conscious perspective. A church’s actions are more likely to be considered “reasonable” and less likely to be negligent if the individuals it chooses to be responsible for protecting the congregation are those who have extensive public safety and emergency response training.
After developing your team the now comes the discussion of proper training for churches and houses of worship. With or without proper training a church runs the risk of being sued when a safety team member has to use his or her weapon. Litigation can be greatly reduced if there is a history of the delivery of a high-quality training program. The training program should be focused on being proactive and watching for those that may come into your church to do harm. Policy and procedures should be in place that state all armed safety team members must do some sort of active shooter training by a reputable company to help reduce liability. James Simmons with Simmons Law Group explains the importance of church firearm training. "Unfortunately, a Church runs the risk of being sued whenever a safety team member fires their weapon. However, legal liability exposure is greatly reduced when safety team members are trained by professionals, there is proper documentation, and safety protocols are followed. Therefore, by being proactive and vigilant, you reduce the possibility of violence and mitigate the Church's legal liability."
Training like Situational Awareness, Threat Profiling, Verbal De-escalating and using tools such as Laser Shot shoot don’t shoot simulators assists safety team members with becoming proactive and not reactive in reducing violent encounters. It is critical that you employ the assistance of reputable companies that make church safety their primary focus. If the company’s main focus is not the expansion of the kingdom of God, be leery of their training techniques. Church safety teams are not a police department or a military unit, they are servants of God and the church. A person in need can be misidentified as a possible threat. If handled incorrectly and without compassion the encounter can lead to severe legal or civil liability, not to mention the missed opportunity to minister to someone in need. We cannot stress the importance of proper training from Christian based organizations like Trinity Security Allies.
All safety team members should hold themselves accountable to a high standard. When carrying a firearm inside the church to protect the flock, armed team members must understand that they are held to a higher standard because of the power they hold. We must not take this position lightly. Remember we are working on expanding the kingdom of God, all glory is to Him and we are his watchmen/watchwomen over His Bride. Remember “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away”. 1 Peter 5:2-4.
For more information on this topic, go to TrinitySecurityAllies.com/Resources and download your free booklet on Carrying Weapons in Church.
[Reference: The Best and Worst Police Response Times of 10 Major U.S. Cities https://www.securitysales.com/news/best-worst-police-response-times/
Jim has many years of law enforcement experience and has run the safety team at his church for several years. TSA was formed after he realized God's calling when multiple churches reached out and asked him to present at their church.