CCW in places of worship? No more "our insurance guy says no" excuse

The issue of security in places of worship has been near and dear to my heart for as long as Ohio's concealed carry law has been in place. That's because, whereas all other private property owners in the State of Ohio must choose if they want to ban legal concealed carry on their property, when it comes to places of worship, legislators chose for them. (Apparently the myth known as a First Amendment separation of church and state only applies when they want it to.)

In Ohio, if a church member with a concealed handgun license brings their firearm to church as a means of protection against attack, the law calls for her to be arrested and charged with a felony of the fourth degree, and a conviction would earn her up to $5000 in fines and 18 months in prison. Worshippers in our neighboring states of Indiana, Kentucky and Pennsylvania labor under no such restrictions to their First and Second Amendment liberties. (Apparently equal protection under the law also only applies when the powers-that-be want it to.)

Those who are more familiar with Ohio law are probably already preparing their emails to me, wishing to remind me that the state does offer an exception to its ban on concealed carry in places of worship for those who are able to obtain permission from the proper church/synagogue/mosque authority. But ask the vast majority of people who have attempted to obtain this permission over the years and been refused, and they'll all have been given some variation of the same excuse: "Our insurance company says no" or "It will raise our insurance rates too much" or "They'll cancel our policy altogether."

While I suspect that many of these excuses were given by agents who hadn't bothered to check with their home office, or by church officials who simply didn't want to dig any deeper, I do believe that the calculations being made by actuaries in the earlier days of Ohio's concealed carry law leaned toward the assumption that there was an increased risk of liability if a place of worship proactively allowed concealed carry. I also have reason to believe that this thinking has changed in a big way over the past few years.

As a concealed carry and personal protection instructor, I have been asked to consult with several places of worship on their safety plans. One such church - which boasts thousands of attendees on a large, multi-building facility several times per week - sought me out after they had been told by their insurance company that their rates would go up if they did NOT have a safety plan in place that involved some type of armed security. Yes, you read that right. Their insurance company, a large outfit that deals almost exclusively with places of worship, had realized that having at least a few good guys with guns in the church was less of a liability risk that was having no plan at all.

While I don't have permission to identify either the church or insurance company involved in the case I just mentioned, there is another insurance company which as chosen to publicize their rationale on church security on their website - and the company's name alone indicates that times are indeed a changin'.

Security expert Ron Borsch, my friend and fellow BuckeyeFirearms.org writer, recently shared a document with me, entitled "Guns in Churches: Addressing Church Security Needs." The document was published in July 2013 by Mennonite Mutual Insurance Company.

For those aware of my decade-plus background as an advocate for self-defense rights, it always comes as a surprise when they learn that I was raised in a Mennonite church. Pacifism is one of the cornerstones of the Mennonite faith.

As I grew into my Christian faith as a young adult, I carefully studied this issue, and came to believe there is strong Biblical support for bearing arms for self-defense.  (For more in this subject, I recommend firearms researcher Dave Kopel's "Is the Best Defense a Good Book?" as well as the online publication entitled "The Bible and Gun Control", and more specifically Essay 2, entitled "The Bible and Guns in America". For a good book on the subject, I recommend, "Evil Invades Sanctuary: The Case for Security in Faith-Based Organizations" by Carl Chinn and "To Keep or Not to Keep" - Why Christians Should not Give Up their Guns" by Timothy Baldwin, J.D. & Charles O. "Chuck" Baldwin, D.D.

I mention my background with the Mennonite church because it helps set the tone for what my expectations were when I realized the document Mr. Borsch shared with me was authored by Mennonite Mutual. In my experience, documents about "safety" or "security" authored by anti-gun rights or anti-self-defense persons or groups aren't usually all that helpful to those interested in said topics. So one can imagine my surprise when I discovered the document to be a well-balanced look at the theological and practical issues at hand, and one that leaves open the possibility for insured churches to consider having an armed safety/ security presence in the building.

The document's introduction begins with a few examples of violence in churches, and notes that "Fatal church attacks result from a variety of issues and are not necessarily triggered from the individual who is angry with people of faith in general. Robbery was already mentioned, but domestic disputes can also prove to be tragic when an estranged husband confronts his wife and the attack results in innocent parishioners caught in the cross fire. There are incidents involving persons angry at a pastor or other types of personal conflicts. So far, these kinds of violent attacks have been far more prevalent than acts of terrorism."

The introduction goes on to quote Jeffrey Hawkins, the founder and executive director of Christian Security Network, who says "It's all about awareness... No church is immune from this kind of thing and they have to start now," and noting that "these situations put the staff, church members, and visitors at risk."

The writers also briefly examine the two main theological viewpoints on the issue:

It would be easy to simply say, “Let’s look at scripture.” But does scripture clearly spell out what we are to do in cases of people carrying out a violent attack in the church? For many congregations it becomes a theological or philosophical discussion. Many people and denominations believe the taking of a life in any case is wrong, Matthew 5:9 says “Blessed are the peacemakers”. Others believe they are called by God to take every measure necessary to thwart any attack on the church. Luke 22:36, “He said to them, but now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don‟t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” Exodus 20:13 says, “You shall not murder,” along with several other passages that point to all life being sacred. However, in Nehemiah 4:17 we read “Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other.” They were trying to guard and protect the work of rebuilding the wall. We are commanded in 1 Peter 5:8 to, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

The paper then explores the various options places of worship they consider to be viable: a total ban of guns on church property, hiring only trained professionals, and having an in-house, volunteer training team. The paper then proceeds to discuss potential advantages and drawbacks of each.

After a brief discussion of how a place of worship may go about deciding among the options, the company provides its written position regarding church security policies for their policyholders, which says, in part:

Mennonite Mutual’s guidelines do not permit churches to allow concealed carry weapons except: 1) active or retired law enforcement or military personnel with firearms training who are either contracted by or are volunteering for the church as security guards; or 2) churches that contract with outside professionals for security; or 3) security training for church personnel.

While Mennonite Mutual does not recommend allowing everyone with a concealed weapon to carry in the building, given the theological background of this denomination, I cannot stress enough how remarkable it is to me that anything but a total ban on guns is listed by this comnay as a viable option. I believe this speaks quite strongly to the idea that insurance companies - even one that has strong roots in pacifism - have come to realize that there are significant liability risks from banning guns altogether.

The paper concludes with the following summary:

No one can completely stop bad things from happening, it is unfortunately part of our human condition and the society we live in. However, a well-designed plan can reduce not only the severity, but also the level of liability a church may encounter if, or when, something tragic does occur. At the end of the day, we must be able to say as good stewards, “We trusted God and did our very best to care for the people and property entrusted to our care.”

Amen!

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary, BFA PAC Vice Chairman, and an NRA-certified firearms instructor. He is the editor of BuckeyeFirearms.org, which received the Outdoor Writers of Ohio 2013 Supporting Member Award for Best Website.

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