Forming a Church Safety Team
Editor's Note: Early last year, Rep. Ron Maag (R-Lebanon) introduced HB 48, which sought to remove places of worship from the list of "no-guns" victim zones. Before it was allowed a floor vote, however, the Republican-led House State Government committee adopted substitute language which stripped the fix for places of worship from the bill. How did it get this bad in the Buckeye State, where, once upon a time, state law encouraged citizens to bear arms at church services? Will it take a church massacre in Ohio before the Republicans controlling the General Assembly do anything about it?
Checking our Stopwatch of Death© database back to 1975, we find that church murders have been increasing with alarming frequency. Regrettably, ignoring the problem is only trolling for a tragedy. It is perfectly normal for us to not want to think about violence, much less murder, or mass murder in church. Today, however, safe havens do not occur naturally, they require our personal attention, intention, planning, and effort. A Volunteer Safety Team (VST) is certainly a practical consideration.
Until our legislators and decision makers for schools, churches, malls, theaters and workplaces become enlightened to the primary factor in saving the most lives (on-site good guys with guns), these locations will continue to be the preferred hunting grounds for active killers. Before we detail suggestions for forming a volunteer safety team, we need a closer examination of the problem.
ROULETTE WHEEL OF RISK©
Churches are certainly not the respected sanctuary they once were. The problem with failing to consider the evil intentions of those who would introduce a homicidal invasion in a church, is a very serious risk. While this risk is admittedly of low frequency, it is also a high probability for catastrophic tragedy. Calculate the risk for yourself here by reading the patterns from our Stopwatch of Death© database:
- As far as we are aware, no Rapid Mass Murder©, (RMM), at a church occurred in the entire decade 1975-1984;
- One occurred in 1985,
- No RMM for the next eight years;
- One RMM in 1994;
- No RMM for four years;
- One RMM in 1999;
- No RMM for the next five years, now pay attention hereon …
- One each RMM in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008;
- Two RMM in 2009; No RMM for two years;
- Three RMM in 2012;
- No RMM for two years;
- One RMM in 2015.
We are not the only ones concerned, see “FBI Offers Security Training for Houses of Worship”
Rapid Mass Murder© at any church was unheard of for a long while. Abruptly, five years in a row we had one or two a year. The three RMM we had in 2012 made churches the third most frequent active killer target, after educational facilities and workplaces but ahead of malls, theaters, Etc. Laws, rules and signs that forbid guns in these locations are obeyed only by the law-abiding. Criminals with homicidal intent are not dissuaded by laws, rules or signs. In fact, it appears evident that they depend on these exact laws, rules or signs for their very own safety, to guarantee that innocent victims will be disarmed and defenseless. Clearly, being ready and prepared for a potential active killer attack is so much better than gambling with parishioner’s lives by doing nothing to counter a documented existing threat.
ONE PREPARED CHURCH
On Sunday, December 9th 2007, an active killer arrived at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado with a rifle, at least two pistols, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and massacre on his mind. Twelve hours earlier and 70 miles away, this cowardly but determined murderer had already attacked the Arvada missionary church, murdering two and wounding two others. New Life is a mega-church and had about 7,000 parishioners on campus at the time of the attack. Arriving at the church, this predatory rogue human began by shooting five, (murdering two, wounding three), parishioners in the parking lot.
The fact that no one was harmed inside the church was by design. New Life church had the foresight to prepare, and was enlightened enough to form a cadre of volunteer armed security guards. A very special church guard on duty that day was Jeanne Assam, a former police officer. At the start of the attack, she was the first to act, moving towards the shooter’s entry point to keep him away from the congregation. Assam opened fire on this rogue human with her personally owned, concealed firearm. Police say that after suffering multiple hits from Assam’s gun, the coward fatally shot himself. Assam later stated that “God guided me and protected me [and I] did not think for a minute to run away.”
TWO TYPES OF RANDOM ACTORS
The random acting active killers that we formally track are not the only threat that churches face. Informally we also track terrorists who may also be inspired by, if not actually directed by criminal Islamists, both foreign and domestic. As evidenced by the slaughter of Jews and Christians in the Middle East and Europe, terrorists will inevitably spread terror into numerous other countries including America. For reference on this topic, see Islamic Terrorists, Today!
Utopian belief that a law, rule or “No-Guns” sign would be obeyed by criminals or terrorists does not meet any common sense standard, and certainly pales in the light of a study: “Pretend “Gun-Free” School Zones: A Deadly Legal Fiction” by David B. Kopel. Who are these Active Killers that commit Rapid Mass Murder© almost anywhere? What are their traits and what can we do to stop them? A four minute preview of a video presented by LTC/Ret. Dave Grossman may be helpful in understanding how they operate.
WINNING WITHOUT FIGHTING?
What these two different types of mass murderers have in common is the fact that neither type of coward arrive at the crime scene expecting a fight. They fully intend to be totally dominant in their slaughter of innocents. They carefully select their target locations by insuring that their victims are disarmed and utterly defenseless. Inevitably, among specific targets in America, will be Christian churches, Jewish synagogues, and moderate Muslim Mosques. Unlike Junior and Senior High schools, colleges and workplaces where Rapid Mass Murder© incidents have an age and familiarity connection, churches typically are targeted by homicidal killers with no connection to whatsoever to the congregation.
When an active killer or terrorist pre-plans and scouts a facility or church, they may judge it to be too hard of a target and pass it up for a easier location. The harder-appearing church has then won the fight without bloodshed or actual fighting. In states that allow the option of having on site armed church security, it is certainly preferable to utilize that option. If a surprise attack occurs, the on-site armed good guys can minimize the carnage.
We have documented that it is evil individuals with Numerous Unstable or Troubling Symptoms© who have committed Rapid Mass Murder© at various locations such as educational facilities, malls, theaters, workplaces, and churches. Outside of being a generally documented location where a group of disarmed and defenseless innocents are gathered, so far there does not seem to be any rhyme or reason for the killer’s choice of church or the worshipers within. Therefore, it is more than prudent to seriously consider congregation safety. Having appropriate foresight to anticipate this risk is both responsible and realistic. To not do so is subscribing to the Roulette Wheel of Risk©. While this risk may be low, the consequence of tragedy is high. When murders occur in church, you can only imagine how devastated the entire congregation and community would be.
PLAIN CLOTHES SURPRISE
A low-profile or plainclothes approach is more comfortable for both the volunteers and fellow parishioners. More importantly, having plainclothes security is an important strategic and tactical advantage against a potential active killer. Actually, any number of armed good guys with CCW permits is much preferred over disarmed innocents in church. Some enlightened pastors have a welcome mat out for their faithful parishioners with CCW permits. That is one approach, the other approach is more formal. Having an armed Voluntary Security Team, (VST), for church functions and services has become an intelligent and knowledgeable safety precaution in today’s world. As Chad Baus points out in his excellent piece, CCW in places of worship: “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.”
WE SUGGEST YOU DECIDE©
There does not seem to be much information in the area of forming a church safety and security team. Having been published on several prestigious law enforcement Internet sites regarding the active killer problem and Rapid Mass Murder©, I previously authored a successful piece on church safety. I have also consulted with advocates of armed, on-site good guys from their churches locally as well as an advocate from a mega-church who traveled to meet with me.
It therefore seems natural to share information that others may find helpful in creating their own church policy on armed good guys being welcomed in church and some fundamentals in forming an on-site church safety and security team. Interested groups are free to modify and expand upon my suggestions for a custom solution, appropriate for their own churches. I am open to share-back from readers. We suggest, you decide. Let’s start with selecting security team members…
An important consideration in the selection process is that candidates already have or are receptive to developing a proper Guardian-Mind-Set training for the duty of protecting the congregation against lethal threats. For example, some of my law enforcement students suggested they knew of volunteer armed church guards that cowered and or fled when the shooting started. Applicants should be stable, sober, level headed, mature adults, generally able-bodied, with skill-sets and psychological makeup approved by the judgement of the Pastor.
Team members should be familiar with how the mind works under stress, (natural “freezing” before fight or flight), how Reality Based Training scenario repetitions reduce the freezing time process, and the four stages of John Boyd’s OODA Loop, and Rebooting the OODA Loop.
Generally speaking, present or prior service military or police would be a good place to start looking for volunteers for your team. However, trusted parishioners, interested enough to have earned their own concealed carry weapon permit, should not be overlooked. The CCW folks are already pre-vetted by having passed a criminal history background check. At a minimum, the CCW folks have also been certified in a state mandated class which includes gun safety and safe gun handling. As a group, they are documented as being quite well behaved since there are penalties for malpractice on their part that could cause them to lose their valuable carry license.
What size should a Voluntary Safety Team be? We can say with certainty that when an active killer actually strikes, most reasonable people would have wished that there were more on-site armed good guys present. Operating at minimum staffing is not recommended, people get sick, injured, Etc. Church size is the main consideration for the size of the VST. A suggested ratio for a smaller church (under one hundred worshipers) is a minimum of two on-site armed good guys at every service. A mega-church may well have two on-site armed good guys for every one hundred worshipers. One church we know of has a minimum of six VSTs at each service.
Church records should maintain a file category for the Volunteer Security Team, along with a list of all CCW permit holders given written permission to carry a firearm in the church. A separate personnel file for each, with a copy of their driver’s license, state, police or military ID card, photograph, copy of their CCW permit should be created. Periodically, the team, including new team members, should review recent ID photos of all CCW permit holders so they can recognize and be familiar with them in case of an incident. Training volunteer candidates is our next challenge.
Volunteering must include follow through with training commitments. Shooting is a perishable skill, and many CCW permit holders actively shoot for recreation or competition. Many are even better marksman than the average police officer. Getting enough of the right sort of volunteer candidates to form a team may be difficult due to various considerations such as: church size, training and meeting time demands, personal cost of ammunition for practice, targets, etc. Costs may be subsidized by donations from time to time. Larger churches can sometimes absorb these costs into their budget.
Within the congregation may be folks with useful skill-sets and credentials that would be helpful in training the Voluntary Safety and Security Team. For example, medical doctors, nurses, or firemen could assist with basic first aid skills. Parishioners with military and police backgrounds could help out with multiple skills such as handgun training and education in other skill-sets. Resources outside the congregation could be local police and fire departments, a local hospital, the American Red Cross, etc.
The state of Ohio requires law enforcement officers to qualify with their firearms at least once annually. Most progressive police departments have firearm training sessions more often. While police are far more likely to respond to a firearm confrontation, it is still possible that church security teams might have to engage a shooter. Regular ongoing training is a must. Once in possession of a permit to carry, VST team members should, at minimum, shoot their state’s law enforcement qualification test at least once per year.
Live fire practice on a quarterly basis is even better. Reality-based humanoid targets and decision making skills (shoot, don’t shoot targets), and shooting in a crowd of innocent people should also be required. Periodic hands-on scenarios and on-site training with Air-Soft, (training handguns projecting only plastic BB’s, not as powerful as Paint-Ball guns), is also recommended.
USE OF FORCE:
Training should also include awareness in identifying pre-incident crises, verbal de-escalation methods, and police notification procedures. Training must include appropriate use of force and the necessary mind-set for the justifiable use of deadly force. Other training consisting of use of less-lethal force (empty-hands, weapon grade flashlights, OC/Pepper-spray, baton, etc.) is also recommended. Periodic meetings and training sessions will enhance the VST’s overall awareness and group cohesiveness.
All training should be documented and include an attendance list, subjects taught, and dates the training took place. VST personnel who pursue extra training or shooting on their own time should document that training as well. Additional selected resources for basing training presentations can be found at the end of this article. Pastors should consider introducing their church security team leaders and trainers to other churches’ teams for the potential of cross-training, accelerated learning, and even VST teams training together.
ADDITIONAL TRAINING RESOURCES:
Video: Surviving An Active Killer
Video and brief article: What To Do if You Face an Active Shooter
Video and article: READY. AIM. TRUTH: Can Armed Citizens Defeat Active shooters?
Video: (OFFICE RELATED) Run-Hide-Fight, Surviving an Active Killer Event
Videos: Left of Bang
About the author:
Since the 1990’s, Ron Borsch has been the manager and lead consultant of the PACT Consultant Group. Supported by the seven SEALE Chiefs of Police, he is also the founder and from 1998 to 2015, was the manager and lead trainer for the SEALE Regional Police Training Academy in Bedford Ohio. Ron built this academy from this seven police department cooperative to eventually serving over one hundred law enforcement agencies from ten states. Ron’s three decade law enforcement career was with Bedford Ohio PD, (Range-master, SWAT, Defensive Tactics, Etc.). He is a Viet Nam veteran, (1965-66), serving as a U.S. Army Paratrooper with the 101st Airborne. Ron has also presented practical arrest control subjects in five states and co-designed a triple stimulus firearms target with state approved scoring specifications.