Church security and ‘active shooters’

In light of current events and probable future threats, I put a few reading items on my wishlist relating to security for churches.  Most of it seems to be oriented to and written by evangelicals.  However, some of these people have a lot of experience.

In one work I found this sobering passage.  It relates specifically to threats against the pastor or community’s leader, but, more importantly, I think it applies also to the safety of the entire congregation:

A threat to your man and women of God can come in many forms. It can be either a nuisance attack meant to embarrass the pastor or it can be a full-blown attack that is meant to murder, maim or otherwise harm the pastor. Either attack can be devastating not only to your pastor but to the congregation as well. The best way to counter an attack against your man or woman of God and your ministry is to thwart it before it can manifest itself. Your security survey is the best place to stop it. It is here that the operatives will have the opportunity to review the sanctuary and the blueprint of the building. It is also here that you will be able to assess threat levels and take appropriate action to prevent an attack from being successful.

Threat Assessment

In order to determine a proper level of threat it is necessary to not only review the actual area that your man or woman of God will be speaking, but to read local newspapers and consult people within the law enforcement community for additional information. With a clear understanding of your current events you will be able to determine the current mood of the public and narrow down the area of potential attackers. To develop the assessment you must ask yourself several questions. They are:

1. Are the subjects that your pastor speaks on controversial (i.e. gays in the church, abortion, etc.)? [It’s not just a ‘pastor’ who preaches on hot issues, the Catholic Church does.]
2. Is your pastor active in politics?
3. Does your pastor have an active broadcast ministry? [hmmm]
4. Is your pastor well known and active in the community? [hmmm again]
5. Is your church growing in size and influence?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you have a legitimate reason to be concerned for the safety of your pastor [nay, rather, congregation!]. It also gives you an idea of your potential attackers. It is this knowledge that you will use when you approach the threat assessment.

From Birriel, Pablo. Ministry Of Defense: Executive Protection For The Ministry (Kindle Locations 19-30). Kingdom Rule. Kindle Edition.

Someone sent me a link to a piece from Right Side News:

Guns In Church? Security Is Heightened As FEMA Helps Churches Prepare For ‘Active Shooter Incidents

Do you ever wonder if someone might come marching into your church one Sunday morning and start shooting? When I was growing up, I never even imagined that some mentally-imbalanced individual or a group of Islamic terrorists would ever attempt to attack a church service that I was attending, but times have changed. There have been more mass shootings in America during the presidency of Barack Obama than under the previous four presidents combined, and the primary target of the Islamic terrorists in San Bernardino was a Messianic Christian. The shooters in San Bernardino could have very easily decided to hunt him down at his place of worship instead of at a workplace Christmas party if they had wanted to. And we all remember the horrific mass shooting that took place at a church in South Carolina earlier this year. Our churches are very vulnerable “soft targets”, and Christians all over America are starting to realize that security needs to become a higher priority.

Just like schools, malls, movie theaters, concert halls and sporting events, churches are places where large numbers of people gather and where security is typically minimal. As Christmas approaches, [NB]FEMA is holding “specialized training” for churches that includes training for “active shooter incidents”… [FEMA?… good idea?  Yes? No?]


If Islamic terrorists were to even just hit one or two of our churches, attendance all across America would immediately plummet. Nobody wants to feel like they are taking their family to a place of danger, and so that is the power of random attacks like the ones that we recently witnessed in Paris. If terrorists can make us feel that they could strike anywhere and at any time, the panic and fear that will create will fundamentally change the way that we go about doing things.

Just look at what is already happening. Church greeters are already being trained to “feel for weapons” as they are hugging people coming in the front door[Really?]

Christian churches have been refining their security plans ahead of receiving some of their largest crowds of the year for Christmas. On a FEMA webinar last Wednesday on protecting houses of worship, the chief security executive at The Potter’s House, the Rev. TD Jakes’ megachurch in Dallas, gave tips about behavior that should raise concern, such as a congregant arriving in a long coat in hot weather. If needed, church greeters could give a hug and feel for weapons, said the executive, Sean Smith. [?]

And at one Catholic congregation in North Carolina, backpacks, baby strollers and diaper bags have been banned from worship areas

In Charlotte, North Carolina, St. Matthew Roman Catholic Church, which draws about 30,000 worshippers to its weekend Masses, [Whew!] this month alerted parishioners to beefed-up security, such as uniformed and plain-clothes police officers at services, and a ban on backpacks, baby strollers and diaper bags in worship areas.

So what is next?

Will we soon have the TSA groping us when we arrive for Sunday school?

Personally, I believe that we are going to see some things that were once unthinkable in the years ahead. For decades, we have all been able to go to worship services without even thinking twice about our safety. But now we live in a very different world.

At one time, it was actually quite common for people to bring guns to church. In fact, a 1631 Virginia law actually required men to “bring their pieces to church”…


This goes on to raise questions about armed congregations.

There is no question that terrorists tend to attack in places where they know people will not be armed.  That includes churches.  Churches are a soft target.  Especially squishy are churches with “no guns” signs posted.

We’ve had this topic before on the blog, but before the Paris and San Bernardino events.

It bears additional level-headed discussion.

Sunday morning, June 26, 1980, America changed forever when a lone gunman invaded the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church of Daingerfield, Texas killing five and wounding ten. He was armed with two military style long guns and two handguns. He wore bullet proof body armor. No one else in the sanctuary was armed. Three men of the church charged the shooter. Two were killed as they forced the shooter out of the sanctuary with their bodies. The shooter was angry that members of the church would not serve as character witnesses during his pending incest/ child molestation trial. 27 years later, in an eerily similar attack, a similarly armed gunman entered The New Life Church in Colorado Springs killing two and wounding three before he was shot by an armed security guard. He carried a military style carbine with multiple magazines, two high capacity handguns and smoke grenades. He also wore body armor. In this case, the shooter was angry because he had been dismissed from a missionary training program.

According to Carl Chinn of Church Security Concepts there have been 792 deadly force incidents of one type or another in faith based organizations since January 1, 1999.


According to Police Magazine, the average duration of an active shooter incident is 12.5 minutes while the average police response time to an active shooter incident is 18 minutes. That pretty well tells the tale. Police response is measured in minutes. The armed response necessary to save lives is measured in seconds.

Kumpe, Bill. Concealed Carry In The Congregation: A Primer On Concealed Carry For Churches (Kindle Locations 75-76). Bill Kumpe dba Genuine Okie Publishers. Kindle Edition.

It is an unsettling topic.

Each church situation is unique, depending on size, the nature of the city or town, layout of the plant, tendency of the priests in their teaching and preaching, parish activities, etc.

Hire security?  Frisk people?  Ban bags?  Encourage concealed carry?  Change nothing?

Discuss… rationally.

Comment moderation is ON.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. benedetta says:

    I have observed, and experienced, “nuisance threats” in Catholic parishes with regularity around the northeast since 2007. Many of these who show themselves to be out of place and there to harass, threaten and alarm do actually go to communion! Perhaps the role of the “ushers” or K of C needs to be reconsidered. These people absolutely do not care about anyone but themselves.

  2. capchoirgirl says:

    Our parish is located downtown, so we have several security measures: two security guards (I know one is former military, not sure about the other), which patrol the parking lot and the inside of the parish; bright outside lights; and cameras at the doors. We also have a keypad to allow entrance for things that happen in the evenings, like choir practice/meetings, and all-night adoration. The parish office is also locked from the inside, and you have to be buzzed in. Our pastor is very good about walking the line between taking prudent safety measures, and still making us feel like our parish is our “home”, and not an armed fortress.

  3. RAve says:

    A student said to his master: “You teach me fighting, but you talk about peace. How do you reconcile the two?” The master replied: “It is better to be a warrior in a garden than to be a gardener in a war.”>

  4. OdeM says:

    Several years ago the rector of the cathedral in Islamabad, Pakistan was here on a mission appeal. I learned from him that at their cathedral they have Catholic armed guards at all the all of the doors inside, and police (who they are not sure if they can trust) outside the Church. This came after the Christmas day massacre several years ago. Our own parish, being in a large city (with great symbolic value) in the United States, I hope that our parishioners–especially those who are police officers and active, reserve, or retired military and/or concealed carry permit holders–feel free to be armed for self defense in Church. I guess if an enemy of Christ wishes to take me out during the Mass, I hope they do it while I am celebrating the Extraordinary form of the Mass. [I won’t see it coming.] I cannot think of a better way to go. Hopefully they would aim for me first, and then be taken out by a well trained and armed parishioner before anyone else is hurt. As far as other types of attacks, I would like to think that since our parishioners are quite diverse and come from many parts of the world, there are many who know what to look for. In addition, because we preach about it often, our people KNOW that it is not unlikely that they might be called to martyrdom either from domestic or foreign enemies of the Church. As Fr. Z often says, GO TO CONFESSION. Be ready at all times!

  5. mschu528 says:

    “Ban bags?”

    No, that one certainly wouldn’t work. If Father is doing his job teaching the authentic Catholic Faith, then many large families with young children are probably drawn to his parish. Young children require lots of supplies, so bags are a necessity for those parents.

  6. MotherTeresa says:

    Fire arms and conceal carry permits are a common fact of life in North Idaho, so there are few ‘soft targets’ in the entire region. Local criminals are aware of this. There are undoubtedly a number of armed parishioners at every Mass we attend so it isn’t something we worry about too much. Law abiding citizens that are handy with guns can protect a congregation in an emergency, but a reputation for having law abiding citizens with handy guns can prevent an emergency.

  7. Orphrey says:

    I was thinking about this just today. Living in Europe and reading about security issues surrounding the ongoing migration from the Middle East, I was thinking that ISIS terrorists might target not just one church, but do a coordinated attack on multiple churches at the same time, maybe around Europe, or maybe within a country. That’s just the kind of thing they might do to show they are at war with the “crusading” West, and make Christians afraid to go to church. What could be done to prevent that? Maybe we need porters again. Where I live the threat is not so much from Islamic terrorists as from secular protesters like feminists or other “rights” activists. It would not surprise me too much if they started disrupting Masses in a coordinated way. One thing I can say definitively is: when I come to Mass, I do not want to be hugged by a greeter when I enter the church.

  8. HyacinthClare says:

    Our priest, in last Sunday’s sermon, invited trained people to bring their concealed guns to church. I don’t know what kind of reaction he got from it, but I am aware of two older ladies who already do, in the mass I attend. The husband of one of them calls her Annie Oakley, and she’s that good.

    [“That good”…. at what? Hitting a paper target with relaxed easy shots at 20 feet? Acting in a “black zone” active shooter attack, with the attendant physiological and psychological changes that extreme stress brings on? The possibility of paralysis… reduced motor control… loss of hearing and tunnel vision… time distortion…. Being dreamy about this stuff is dangerous to a lot of people. Brutally honest evaluation is essential.]

  9. Seamus says:

    Church greeters are already being trained to “feel for weapons” as they are hugging people coming in the front door…

    I’m not a violent person generally, but I can’t answer for how I’m likely to react if a greeter/usher were to hug me, much less play TSA agent feeling me up for weapons as I walked into Mass.

    [I’m guess… not well. right?]

  10. Orphrey says:

    Another perspective on the issue of church security, at least from a European perspective, is that the relative peace and security for those going to church today was purchased through the sacrifice of many who defended Europe from Islamic invaders over many centuries. For hundreds of years, practically from the start of Islam, European civilization was in a “hot war” with the muslims. For the last couple hundred years, you might argue, Islam was down, but is now asserting itself again. Christendom had to defend itself before to make the continent safe for Christians. The popes and other leaders of those times clearly identified the threat. I am surprised both secular and many Church leaders today do not look at history and see the violent expansionism inherent in Islam.

  11. TopSully says:

    Father – I agree. Practicing at a range is one thing. Having experience under fire is something else. I’m not sure that having a number of unknowns suddenly pulling out firearms is a good idea. If I were to be carrying in church, which I do not, and there was a threat and I started to respond how would someone in the next pew over know if I was an accomplice or another threat? I think non-lethals are a very good solution in a church setting. Have you ever tried to shoot with your eyes on fire? Pepper spray for one is very good at disabling and has a wide spread pattern so you don’t need to be Annie Oakley to be effective. You will get collateral damage, but it will be temporarily painful, not life threatening (except in rare instances). Ushers can be supplied with pepper spray, trained in its use, and the condition of the canisters can be monitored easily. Yes, pepper spray expires!

    Bonus: Pepper spray can also be used against protesters who are not carrying firearms but are threatening physical violence against the Pastor, other ministers or congregants. (I don’t suggest using it against pushy sign of peace givers, no matter how great the temptation).

    There isn’t a one size fits all solution, but general preparedness is necessary. Some form of protection is necessary. I just think it is asking too much in most places for the average usher or Knight to do double duty as an armed (with a firearm) guard. I’m sure it is feasible in some places in the US, but I’ll bet that it isn’t very many.

    [I like a lot of what you say and your concerns about chaos are noted. There are some serious pepper spray delivery systems available. And what you say about the “average usher or Knight” is spot on. Although… just for a fleeting moment I had an image of an honor guard with AR-15s instead of a sword arch. Just for a moment and then the seriousness of the discussion washed it away.]

  12. Patikins says:

    I’m a member of the same parish as capchoirgirl. Addicts looking for money for their next hit are a much bigger everyday concern than terrorists in urban parishes. I’m not convinced that security guards with stun guns would help much in an active shooter situation. I wish we still had off-duty police officers patrolling the premises.

  13. Augustine says:

    FEMA? Nay, invite the NRA instead and encourage everyone to take a free basic class. The NRA also offers classes on evading and taking out an assailant in domestic or commercial buildings. This class and a CHL would be mandatory to the members of the restored order of porters, should Fr. Z become Pope Z I. [Moments of frivolity … okay. However, I think a long talk and planning with lawyers might be a good idea before making anything “mandatory”.]

  14. Orphrey says:

    One final thought on church security: Maybe the Church’s military Orders need to be revived. We may need some good chivalrous Catholic knights in the future, not just doing works of charity but actually taking up arms to defend Christians.

    Finally, it is interesting to note that in the modern era, many European cities tore down their defensive walls. The city where I live used to be fortified, and had to defend against Protestant armies that ravaged the land for many years. Turkish armies conquered and plundered not that far away, as well. But my city removed its bastions over a hundred years ago. Vienna used to have a wall, which came in handy when the muslims attacked. Modern people thought such defenses were not needed any more. It may turn out that was a conceit.

    [Nehemiah 4:18]

  15. andia says:

    The Parish providing diapers for free and toys on site would mitigate a lot of the parental need for bags…but our ancestors traveled without many of the things we think of as “necessary” today.
    If parishes feel the need to ban bags, they need to not only help the parents affected, but the also people with medical needs ( and there are several folks I know who have to carry medical equipment everywhere) but if there is a real fear that someone might smuggle weapons into church, people’ lives and safety trump comfort and ease of attending anything–including Mass. Attending Mass is mandatory, but it being easy, is not.

    Frankly, I have no issue with banning bags, as long as it is applied evenly across the board…so telling women and teens they can’t have purses or backpacks is ok as long parents are told the same about diaper bags and no exemptions for anything. Someone bent on killing or maiming people in Church are not going to stop at putting their weapons in their diaper bags, strollers or bags for medical equipment- for that matter.

    Frisking people would be really intrusive and should be reserved for the very rarest of circumstances.

    Hiring security who are well trained and carry would be expensive – but if it saves one life, worth it.

    I like the idea of concealed carry and as soon as I can I am getting a concealed carry permit and training to be able to use it, if need be. As it is I have more 30 years of Kung Fu and would be defending my priests and church with everything I know if the worst should happen.

  16. MattH says:

    In the part of the world in which I attend Mass, banning coats would make it impossible for all but the young and fit to be there – below a certain temperature, young children and older people simply do need winter gear. I also agree that banning bags would place an undue burden on parents of young children.

    The “hug to check for weapons” is ineffective. First, some ways of concealing the weapon would defeat this. Second, it requires greeters to approach and hug the exact individuals they are least comfortable approaching. Third, unless you had very well trained observers or you “hugged” everyone, it would likely be too easy to miss the exact people you should check.

    The best way to end an active shooter incident is with trained individuals with firearms. However, unless your Mass is very poorly attended (in which case it probably won’t be the target), there will be significant issues in getting a clear shot. Some realistic hand-to-hand skills could be useful. I stress realistic, because, just like Father is saying there’s a difference in hitting paper targets with no stress versus shooting when being shot at, there’s also a big difference between dojo/gym skills versus being willing to close on someone who has lethal intent. Anyone who insists on thinking they’ll be able and willing to do it, had better start assessing their place of worship for things that can be used as improvised weapons and/or cover and concealment.

    Finally, first aid skills – being able to tourniquet yourself, your fellow parishioners, or the hopefully-now-subdued shooter could also be a lifesaving skill here. Other skills to keep people from bleeding out before an ambulance arrives could be helpful in this scenario – and many others.

    [You bring up a great point about First Aid. This is one of the reasons why my wishlist is replete with things like Z-Paks and tourniquets. After the harm has been inflicted, there is the bleeding to stop until help arrives, God willing.]

  17. Patti Day says:

    In our small parish an active shooter could kill every person in the church in 12.5 minutes and the response time from police in our rural area, especially on a Sunday, would surely exceed 18 minutes. The Church is easily accessed from the highway. The congregation have their backs to the main entrance. There are two exits at the front of the church by which some might escape, but both empty into small gardens that are closed on three sides. The parish office area, kitchen, and rest rooms are served by a narrow hallway with one flimsy interior door and an exit that most parishioners probably don’t even realize is there. Our children would be especially vulnerable in the rabbit warren of small rooms used for Catechetics. We’d be sitting ducks.

    [Keep in mind that shooters are probably also going to be experiencing the same “black zone” physiological symptoms… unless they are a special kind of psychopath. Not everything goes perfectly for them, either. That, however, doesn’t diminish their danger.]

  18. Kerry says:

    Dear fellow Z readers. Please read this very thorough and knowledgeable post from three years ago, courtesy Larry Correia. He gives his bona fides, and he knows whereof he speaks. http://monsterhunternation(dot)com/2015/06/23/an-opinion-on-gun-control-repost/
    (By the way, in his very recent post, Guns and Vultures, he denies the ‘more mass shootings’ meme.)
    Note especially what he says about “speed bumps”.
    The FEMA advice can be read here: https://emilms.fema(dot)gov/IS907/AS01summary.htm
    The British video with similar ‘advice’ is at Weaponsman(dot)com. (When self defense is outlawed, to run away is your only defense. The FEMA advice says, “Only as a last resort, when your life is in danger…” The British video neglects to answer “If not…?” to their advice, “If you can escape…”, “If you can hide…”.
    I am not an expert on any of this, but out and out running away is poor planning. [Running isn’t always easy in a church.]

  19. WmHesch says:

    Perhaps now is the time to restore the ancient minor order of PORTER/ OSTIARIUS?? Seminarians and “viri probati” could get their concealed carry permits in preparation for the exercise of this ministry.

  20. RobW says:

    Another reason I attend the tlm…no hugs or feeling when I walk through the door. And the cop that sits up front with the Glock on his hip is comforting.

  21. Gus Barbarigo says:

    I’m concerned that the FEMA involvement is actually to *discourage* parishioners from practicing concealed-carry in church. It’s also a way to extend the TSA’s groping tentacles into areas outside of airports.

  22. MAJ Tony says:

    My family – German ancestry, living in Southwestern Indiana since just about the end of the U.S. Civil War – has a bit of history with this sort of thing. In the Interwar years leading up to the Great Depression, Indiana was pretty much controlled by the KKK, specifically the Indiana Klan. As it turns out, being Catholic in Indiana was as bad as being black. As it was related to me, my adult ancestors and other families of my home parish at the time spent considerable time devoted to the protection of the rural parish priest and the parish facilities. The Klan – whose head, D. C. Stephenson had moved to Evansville in 1920 – had threatened to kill the priest and burn down the church 20 miles east of town, and we were certainly not alone in the area, given the extent of the German Catholic immigration into a very WASPy Southern Indiana, a state originally settled from the south out of Kentucky. The Ohio River Valley was heavily settled by German immigrants of all three religious traditions after the Civil War. The only difference here is the immigrants are the ones we most suspect we have to guard against. Honestly, when you consider the situation, some of this is a serious concern, but we shouldn’t let fear-mongering cause us to exceed that which is prudent. We also shouldn’t let hate-mongering (some of the things I’ve read on the right) drive us to do things that will call us on the carpet at judgement day.

    Link to Klan history in Indiana

  23. Maltese says:

    As a former FBI Special Agent, I would say to always expect the unexpected. Every person entering the sanctuary shouldn’t be judged (theologically), but should be evaluated, by ushers, perhaps. [There are things to watch for … without hugging.] I know that you can’t necessarily depend on local law enforcement to be with you: most law enforcement only respond to crime after it’s happened. [What’s the old phrase? When seconds count, the police are only minutes away!] This means that is up to the people in your church to prevent it before it happens. [God willing and vigilance prevail!] I don’t mean this to perpetuate the “Patriot Act” redux, A few folks with conceal-carry permits may approach their priest, say they have weapons (even Christ told his disciples to sell their tunics and buy swords, and, of course, Peter cut off the ear of a man attempting to arrest Jesus–the disciples of Jesus were armed to the hilt, for their time,) and get that priest’s OK, but that isn’t necessary. I used to fly on planes with my Glock, and I was required to introduce myself to the pilot; but if you have a conceal-carry permit, you may go into a church (not a liquor establishment), [That depends on the state. In many states you can, but you may not consume anything.] and be there to protect folks. I would say: go out and get a conceal-carry permit (which requires a background check), [And some basic training…which should be supplemented by more and more.] and be there in the pews, with your people, should–God forbid–anything ever go wrong. Because you might be the only one there to protect your brothers and sisters in Christ, and the wooden pews around you won’t protect you from an AK-47. [RIGHT! Because this isn’t TV where plywood and sheet rock and car doors seem to stop any bullet being fired regardless of the caliber and range.]

  24. mo7 says:

    It depends on the building, maybe the church doors should be closed or guarded once Mass starts until it’s over. Especially at the TLM, no one is watching the door at the back of the church once Mass starts. A shooter coming in only a few steps from the street could do a lot of harm before anyone even realizes what’s happening.

  25. Dspauldi says:

    I like Maltese’s advice very much.

    Father, you reminded folks to know their state laws and I don’t think that can be stressed too much. [YES!]

    One must consider the proximity of the church to the school, for example, since many states expressly bar open and concealed carry on school grounds or within a certain distance of schools.

    When in doubt, call the local sheriff’s office and ask is the advice my gun club gives in their basic pistol course.

  26. Maltese says:

    One last thing: there is a difference between cover and concealment. Cover means a round can’t get you, concealment means they perpetrator can’t see you. Get into a position of both cover and concealment, if something ever happens, and even if you don’t have a weapon, you will still–ideally–be able to take-down the perpetrator from behind. The perpetrator has, of course, a visual sight like yours. So, if you are properly covered and concealed, and behind him, you have the advantage, despite his weapon. And, “perception is reality,” so, cause a distraction to the perpetrator. Seriously: throw something–anything–to his left (if you are on his right), and that gives you the advantage to move quickly to take him down (but quickness is the key). But always stay behind him–never in his line-of-sight.

  27. 4jolliff2 says:

    Most of us that conceal carry are more concerned with getting our families and others out and away from a situation. Firing on someone is a last resort. [RIGHT! Evasion is best. Unless it is not possible we should try. And a family man has a first responsibility to his family.] I am a firefighter in a large city and we are trained to always think about secondary devices. I know it sounds weird but I have ran a couple scenarios through my mind about the best way to get people out of our church not using the most obvious exits. As this discussion continues,please keep in mind that the front door may not be the best choice. An alternative route (like behind the alter) may keep others from evacuating into a worse scenario. [Always know where all exits are.] People in countries lie Israel are accustomed to this way of thinking. A good preplan with professionals who are n your parish could yield life saving results! We need to think ahead of their tactics to beat them. I for one do carry in church, I have a family and at least want a chance to protect them if running away or hiding is not an option.

  28. Tradster says:

    If sermons about controversial subjects are risks then the typical N.O. priest has little to worry about. [We don’t know that. Why would an Islamic lone-wolf terrorist know what is “typical N.O.”? If the attacker wants to hit a Catholic church and yours is the a) only one in town or b) nearest….]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  29. gatormom says:

    I think it would be great if the Pastor contacted all current and retired LEO’s in the Parish. He could encourage or condone concealed carry at Mass. He could enquire as to what Mass they typically attend and request these men choose seats in strategic locations in the building. I am sure if this was done, most Churches would have more than enough armed security at no cost. They may already have more security then they know.

  30. kiwiinamerica says:

    My prayer has always been that I die in Church. Perhaps the good Lord will hear me…..perhaps he won’t.

    In any event folks, look to the brave souls in Iraq and Syria. Now that is a security threat! Every visit to the Church could be your last.

    Let’s all think about that for a moment and try to keep a sense of perspective here.

  31. majuscule says:

    Great discussion.

    It got me thinking about alternate exits. I know the face-to-face side of our confessional has a door the priest uses that opens out into the hallway near the sacristy. I’m sure most terrorists (and even many parishioners) are unaware of this.

  32. Besides FEMA, the FBI has a training video for all law enforcement: “The Coming Storm.” Lots of themes common to what you’re saying. Here’s the trailer:

    Even better, the FBI has a program for those who would cooperate with law enforcement, such as priests being chaplains. This course also deals with predictable if unhelpful critical incident reactions, which you well summarized in the comments. That part of the course was prepared by The Johns Hopkins University and Loyola College in Maryland. Here: Active Shooter: The Coming Storm (FBI: Train now!) It would be good for priests to look into this.

    About those five things mentioned in the post to grade the level of danger for a parish, well, we hit all 5 many times over, though the political thing is simply speaking about morality which has been politicized by the powers that be. Not to be complacent, but our parish is situated in far Western North Carolina, where most families have arsenals, and where gun control is almost non-existent relatively speaking. I’m guessing that, per capita, we are the most heavily armed parish during Mass in these USA. But training is essential. When seconds matter, shaving nano-seconds off with sharp responses is essential.

    [First, it’s good to see you here again. Also, thanks for this information.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  33. Absit invidia says:

    Get your concealed carry permit, learn how to shoot from different positions, and mentally prepare to defend yourself.

  34. Br. Augustine of Nubia says:

    The Church Militant has always been under physical attack. If we are not drawing fire, we are not in the fight.
    Our Cathedral in Ogdensburg has a stained glass memorial to Father Leo Heinrichs, the former pastor of St. Stephen’s in Croghan NY. He was murdered by an Anarchist in 1908 while at the communion rail at a Mass for workingmen.

    Perhaps we can develop a ministry to encourage police officers and concealed carry folks to provide coverage for every Mass? At least one per Mass. I usually have a rifle or two in the trunk since I my Sunday starts with teaching Catechism then Mass and ends with lunch and target shooting before going home. I usually keep a Combat Lifesaver’s bag in my trunk as well. I have a carry permit and have been lucky enough to have been trained extensively.

    I have only carried my pistol once…I discerned a strong need to bring it one Christmas years ago.
    I woke up and knew to bring it to Mass that day. Luckily, nothing happened. I don’t the KofC in my area would work out…they all seem so catholic-lite/ weak sauce.

  35. Jason Keener says:

    I have to admit that I think about a possible terrorist attack happening at Mass almost every time I go now. I’ve been sitting closer to the emergency exits just in case a quick exit becomes necessary. As Father Z always says, this stuff never happens to you—until it does! [Yep.]

    In any event, I really think every parish ought to recruit parish members who are police officers or military veterans to serve in some sort of security capacity during all Masses. If parishes cannot find volunteers from the parish, armed guards or off-duty police officers should be hired. Parishes should also encourage those who conceal and carry to do so at Mass. It’s too bad this sort of stuff has to be considered, but it has become an absolute necessity. Parishioners should insist that security be stepped up in their parishes and that this threat be taken seriously. At this point in time, I have not seen any visible increase in security at any of the urban parishes I attend. Some of the parish churches I attend are large and historic, and unfortunately, would make for very easy and symbolic targets. Some of these parishes also have signs forbidding any weapons in the church, which I find to be complete and utter nonsense. These signs should be totally ignored by law-abiding citizens. Of course, the church building is ideally a place of peace, but people attending Mass still have a right to defend their lives and parish property from vile acts of terrorism.

  36. rtrainque says:

    I have something of a plan for how to deal with an attacker at Mass (as I have for my home, workplace, and just about everywhere I go). Of course, circumstances can play against you, but having at least thought about it puts you in a better position than most people.

    I suppose for some of the larger parishes like those mentioned in the article, security/plainclothes police are a viable option that can’t hurt, but keep in mind that any type of “checkpoint” you can set up without making the place feel like a fortress is only very marginally “hard” (I went to an event a couple weeks ago where they were checking bags and coats, but I would have had to change absolutely nothing about my EDC to get through) and on top of that not everyone who carries a gun as part of their job is a “shooter”, so properly skilled and equipped parishioners should not be kept from being able to respond if the need arises.

  37. John of Chicago says:

    Many years ago, on the south west side of Chicago, was a neighborhood bar frequented by off-duty cops who would stop in for a beer and commaraderie. One evening a seriously under-informed young miscreant with a starter’s pistol walked in, pulled out his “gun,” qand told the bartender to hand over the cash. Instantly the nearest cops who had heard the announcement pulled their off-duty guns and ordered–loudly–that he drop he gun. An instant later several dozen additional guns appeared in cops’ hands all around the dimly lit room. The kid, in profound shock and terror, surrendered. Afterward, a very senior detective sergeant told me that this was the most terrifying single moment of his career because he knew that the sound of just one shot from any of those several dozen drawn off-duty guns could well have “triggered” a circular firing squad and an inadvertent massacre and… That was a room full of trained, street wise police officers he was talking about in an unexpected, stressed situation. Now just imagine a bunch of armed, “amateur” civilians scattered wall to wall, front to back among the pews at the Sunday 10:00am Mass in a similar scenario as they pull their Glocks out of their pockets, purses and diaper bags. Would every one of them have the same discipline, disposition and good sense to hold their fire that all those cops had, do you think? There’d be no room for even a single misjudgment there, either, otherwise… [Yes, this is an important issue.]

  38. rmichaelj says:

    Both parishes I attend are relatively “hard” targets. The OF is in rural Texas- this makes it probably less likely to be attacked, and we have many conceal carry persons in the parish. Regardless, of how one might react in an active shooter situation, if it is known or thought to be known that there is a percentage of armed persons on a premise, then that place is much less likely to be attacked. [Unless the attacker is completely deranged or is trying to commit “suicide by attack”, you are probably right.]
    The same is likely also true of the EF I attend, with the added bonus that we also have an armed police officer at almost every mass. Again, just the presence or likelihood of an armed guardian is enough to often deter an attack.

  39. Geoffrey says:

    My parish happens to be the final resting place of a recently canonized and somewhat “controversial” saint. Around the time of the canonization, the parish grounds were vandalized. Prior to that, several groups held protests. We have hired / professional security guards patrolling regularly. Whether they are armed or not, I do not know.

  40. Imrahil says:

    Well, there is this distinction between an emergency situation and normal life. People do not tolerate a perpetual emergency situation; emergency must have some concrete suspicion as its grounds, and a clearly foreseeable end.

    In an emergency, well, frisk them. Even then allow bags inside – after being duly controlled.

    Otherwise (and generally) – go to Confession: and don’t let the even only potential evildoers disturb your peace. If something happens and someone gets killed, sentence the perpetrator, [First… stop the perp.] appear at the Requiem and donate money to the affected family.

    [This sounds a lot like, “Let them kill you and let others clean up the mess when the killing is over.]

  41. kbf says:

    There’s a lot of me that thinks/says “Sorry Fr, you’re wrong, just plain wrong”. But then, you’re an American (I’m English), and Americans have this somewhat ideological tunnel vision when it comes to the 2nd Amendment. [And is there any of you that thinks/says, “Wow, I hope Americans work this out while we see yo our own house in our own way?”] The reason you have mass shootings in the US is because guns are profligate in your society. What we outisde the US observe is the schitzophrenia in the US between the vociferous claim to the right to bear arms (which in itself was borne out of a paranoid distruct of authority and government) [Gee, thanks. That wasn’t condescending at all.] and the disbelief and shock when, time after time, some deranged individual takes an arsenal of high velocity automatic weapons and then starts shooting. The cause is the lax control of weapons, the effect is mass shootings. [Gratis asseritur, gratis negatur. There are other numbers which show the reverse, as I am sure you know.] The last mass shooting we had in the UK was in 2010, some 14 years after the previous one. There have been 3 in the last 30 years in the UK. You have suffered 353 mass shootings in the US in the past year alone. [What is your definition of “mass” shooting? Does it include inter-gang related shootings?] Let me say that again, 353 mass shootings in the past year, or an average of 1 a day. In the UK it is exceptionally hard to obtain a Firearms Licence to own the likes of a shotgun or hunting rifle. In the US, depending on what state you are in, you only need to prove residency, lack of criminal conviction, and a few other loose criteria to walk into a shop and buy an M16A4 off the shelf. [That is not true. The M16 is an automatic weapon. It is pretty hard to buy one of those.]

    If you want to make your society safe, then get your guns off the streets. [So that only the bad guys have guns. We have something called the 4th Amendment here. You lot should try it!]

    Secondly, if you look at the profile of a terrorist attack they tend to follow a pattern of hitting mass transportation or places where people gather. The Islamic ideologues have a beef with Western society, its norms, values, and most of all its democracy and freedom of choice. Their MO is the indiscriminate killing of people who live a non-Islamic lifestyle. Theirs is an irrational God who delights in the slaughter of non-believers and “apostates” of all types and so they will seek to strike where they will kill as wide a range of non-believers going about their normal lives as possible – not just Christians and/or Catholics. [Just because this entry addresses the situation of Catholic churches, that doesn’t mean that I think that only Catholic churches are soft targets. Furthermore, the MO of attacks can evolve and is evolving.]

    I’m not saying never, but look at where they have hit in recent years: shopping centre in Kenya, beaches in Tunisia, a shopping precinct in Australia, the Canadaian Parliament. Statistically, the majority of attacks against Christians take place in Africa and Pakistan, and then mostly if you are at school or university (because the Islamic idealogues hate education – in fact Boko Haram can be loosely translated to (non-Islamic) “education is gravely sinful”. In fact, you are more likely (statistically) to be a victim of a terrorist attack at a place of worship of you are a Shia muslim.

    You like shooting for sport. Great, I have no drama with that. I’ll fundamentally disagree with your outlook on guns in society. But, to quote yourself back to you, “Anecdote is not the plural of evidence”.

    [I think you all are going to have serious problems over there. I hope not, but I think so.]

  42. Ann Malley says:

    “…the possibility of paralysis… reduced motor control… loss of hearing and tunnel vision… time distortion…. Being dreamy about this stuff is dangerous to a lot of people. Brutally honest evaluation is essential.”

    Being dreamy about what horrors “could” happen if one was armed is similarly dangerous, Father. Brutal, honest evaluation is key here, but no cause to overreact in the opposite direction – that of allowing fear to keep one from using the proper tools when having the proper training. [Yes, proper training! That was the point, I believe.] Especially not in an era wherein we are getting proper WARNING that life in the US is not business as usual. Far from it. (…to ignore fair warning is dreaming. Much like those who would pretend that those claiming they want to kill Americans are just needing a job or more money thrown at them.)

    Just because one has never lived through an active shooter incident or war scenario doesn’t mean one doesn’t have the capacity to engage when duty demands. Soldiers are trained and vetted. Police are trained and vetted. So too is a civilian population when needs must. ‘Fear’ of accidents doesn’t keep one from the necessity of doing one’s duty. [And sometimes the properly trained freeze up.]

    That said, there are plenty of war seasoned veterans, police, hunters etc out there in our parishes who would likely love to carry out the duty to protect and to serve. [Hurray for the “sheepdogs”!] Those who have the skill should use it, Father. That is not to glamorous or be dreamy, but to face a reality that is here whether we will or no.

    I can only imagine the dreams that will come to haunt and horrify and condemn those men/women who had the capacity and warning to take proper measures, but who didn’t for fear.

    [Training must be ongoing. Skills perish. When confronted with a crisis, most people revert to a level defined mostly by their training. It takes most people thousands of repetitions for an action to become also a matter of muscle memory.]

  43. oldconvert says:

    Not by coincidence, I was thinking only yesterday about the vulnerability of my parish Church to attack. The one thing we have going for us is that it is a small, rural church where just about everybody knows everybody else, by sight if not by name – strangers would stand out like sore thumbs, but there are only two doorways in the body of the Church, both opening into a car-parking area. Somebody could just drive in, hop out and start shooting or throwing petrol bombs, God forbid, as we all sit/kneel there, backs to the main door.

    Nor do I think that the elderly ladies and gentlemen who are our greeters would take kindly to the idea of patting down visitors!

    As has been said above, the stringent gun control in the UK means that almost only criminals and convincing nutters can get hold of guns. (Dunblane and Hungerford were both perpetrated AFAIK by men who held their weapons legally.) The result is that apart from legal gun clubs, farmers, and Army vets and reservists, very few of the population have even seen a gun in real life, let alone fired one. But we also have borders that leak like sieves (Government department responsible admits this) and are members of a Community which in peaceful times espoused free movement over national borders with some fervour and now doesn’t seem willing to give it up. Although it is fair to say that we don’t seem to be too bad at brewing our own home-grown terrorists – the London Bombing, for example.

    Father, the Powers that Be resisted the arming of the civilian population and the Home Guard in 1940, when Hitler was standing less than fifty miles away able to see the Dover cliffs! They are not going to cede that power now.

  44. moon1234 says:

    In Wisconsin at least, if you allow concealed carry or do not prohibit it, you are granted statutory immunity from any liability of such a grant. Meaning if you allow it and someone busts in and shoot up the place, the owner is not liable for a “lack of security.” This somewhat shifts the burden of security onto patrons, visitors, etc.

    The reverse though is somewhat murky. If you put up a sign that says no guns allowed, you assume liability to protect patrons. If you ultimately gets sued because the unthinkable happens and the business prohibited CCA permit holders from carrying, they may have an actionable claim against the business.

    It is best to NOT prohibit licensed CCA holders from carrying in Church. Should the unthinkable happen and someone is injured and the accumulates substantial medical bills that they can’t pay, won’t that person sue simply out of necessity? Maybe it would be pertinent for the pastor to address his congregation on the issue. A bulletin announcement maybe something like this:

    Guns in Chuch – If you are a concealed weapons permit holder, please make sure your weapons stay concealed. While St. Steve’s of the Highway does not prohibit weapons, we want to make sure we do not alarm others who may not be comfortable around guns. If you would like to help improve the safety and security of our parish, please come to the informational meeting on xxxxxx or visit Father for more information.

    Then hold a simple informal meeting with those who ARE interested in helping with security. Those people should know what Father expects. i.e. no shooting while other parish members are in the line of fire, all attempts should be non-lethal if possible, etc. Then have them run some mock drills while others are not around. Practice responding to someone coming through the doors quickly with a gun (maybe use a broomstick or something not a gun for drills). Then determine how a response should happen. Who will protect Father or other clerics. How do we get them out of the line of fire. How do we protect the blessed sacrament.

    This always comes to mind:

  45. Kerry says:

    kbf, please read this:
    Glad you don’t think Americans are schizophrenic, just schitzophrenic. Would that be bat-schitz crazy?

  46. Maltese says:

    “how do we protect the blessed sacrament.” That is a noble sentiment, but if an active shooter is in your midst, worry about protecting life, Jesus–as God–can protect himself. There is a joke about the man who saw floods coming towards his house, and a lifeboat passed by him, and told him to get on board; the man said, “I don’t need you, for God will save me.” As the floods inundated his home, he went to the roof, and a helicopter flew above his roof, and the pilot said, “I’m here to evacuate you!” The man said, “I don’t need you, God will save me.” When the man was drowned, he asked God why He had allowed him to drown, since he always prayed fervently to God. God said, “I tried many times to save you, but you didn’t let my people.”

    So, we need each other, more than the Sacrament needs us. The Sacrament is meant for us, not for us to preserve the Sacrament. Though it is our duty to love and serve God–even unto death–it doesn’t mean that God requires us to put ourselves in harms-way for his Sacrament. Peter tried that, and cut of the ear of a soldier, only to be admonished by Christ (who healed the soldier’s ear.)

  47. Ann Malley says:

    “…Training must be ongoing. Skills perish. When confronted with a crisis, most people revert to a level defined mostly by their training. It takes most people thousands of repetitions for an action to become also a matter of muscle memory.”

    That is true, but to dismiss one who has the reputation of Annie Oakley as some sort of fantasy isn’t quite on the mark either. My ‘old lady’ friends in Idaho are perfectly equipped and practiced. I feel quite safe with them. Not because of bragging, but because of a mindset and style of living that, despite what others may believe they know, includes the requisite practice and mental rationale to stay calm. They are by nature and breeding, not squeamish.

    A person raised around guns is likely to be calm while using them. Being ‘that good’ can often mean ‘that good’. And the training is that of life, Father, and the understanding of guns as necessary tools. These are also the kind of individuals that could be of very great service.

    So perhaps we should ask those with conceal carry permits to carry in Church, but only after they get back out on the range and duly consider the anticipated targets won’t be paper.

  48. The Masked Chicken says:

    I had a long comment, but I pasted over it (there is no undo button in Android, is there?).

    Let me summarize:

    1. I know little about guns, but something about math, so I can only comment from that perspective. Statistically, having anyone bring a concealed carry to Mass is very inefficient, as all guns could wind up one the same side of the room, for example. There is an optimum geometric arrangement of concealed carry shooters for any given church pew arrangement that maximizes focus on points of ingress and minimizes crossover into civilians. This is a minimax problem. Concealed carriers should be positioned at these fixed points at each Mass, with the rest of the congregation being expected to duck and cover when shots are fired. That way, in an instant, maximum efficiency is reached (and it could startle the shooter to see the sudden exposure of the concealed shooters).

    Also, never overlook the humble office of the Holy Sniper (s), positioned to take out shooters at the start.

    We’ve got innocent as doves down pat (go to confession), but many churches need to work on that cunning as serpents part.

    The Chicken

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