The Texas church shooting and our future choices. Wherein Fr. Z opines.

People are asking for my reaction to the terrifying church shooting in Texas.

A man was acting oddly in the church during the service.  The church had some trained people at the service who noticed him and then watched him.  They were situationally aware.  I heard in one interview that they even put a camera on him.  When the man eventually opened fire with a shotgun, the trained people were not entirely taken off guard.  The perp was stopped by a trained congregant with a hand gun.

A USA Today article says that the parishioner, Jack Wilson, was a reserve deputy sheriff “with extensive training who has taught shooting at his own range”.

Some observations.

  • Stricter gun laws would not have stopped this.  The perp was a felon who, by law, was not to have a gun.
  • There are already laws against murder.
  • Stricter gun laws would more than likely have resulted in far greater loss of life in that church.  Not long ago, Texas’ law changed to permit conceal carry weapons in churches.  Hence, there were armed congregants who stopped the perp from doing greater harm.

Some thoughts.

The thought of a perp with a hand gun and intent to do harm in a church is pretty scary.  A perp with a shotgun is terrifying. An empty shotgun can be dropped and a handgun can be used.   Depending on the gauge and load, a shotgun at close range can cause devastation.

As I spend a great deal of Mass facing away from the body of the church, I really want someone to have my six, and the overwatch of the boys in the sanctuary who are focused on the altar.

What I have to offer is solely my opinion.  I can’t and don’t claim to speak for anyone else but myself.

I’ve written quite a few times on this blog that everyone should take firearms training.  This training includes an introduction to the all-important situational awareness as well as conflict avoidance and reduction.  Those aspects in themselves make the training worthwhile, even if you never intend to carry a gun or even touch one again.    This is, in my opinion, especially important for women.   To my female readers I say: your handgun is your equalizer.

While in some places it may not be possible to organize, it seems to me that if there are congregants who are active or retired LEOs they might be organized as a security team at Masses and other events, just as this Texas parish seems to have done.   It is also possible that there are some level headed candidates in other walks of life who could be trained up to join that team.   Trained.  Trained.  Did I mention “trained”?   Let me add: professional.  This isn’t “Spanky and Our Gang”.

The training involves skills that are perishable.   Therefore, the training has to be serious, repetitive, regular, and ongoing.   When things happen, people generally regress to their level of training.

Another thing for every reader out there.

Situational awareness is not merely knowing where you are right now and who is nearby and doing what right now.  Situational awareness includes going over in your head various scenarios and developing some idea of what you might do.   Sure, when things go sideways, plans tend to go sideways too.  However, having something in your head is better than having nothing in your head.   Know where your exits are.  Know where the obstacles are.  Know what and where your weapons are.   Develop habits of perception about your environment, comprehension or recognition of what you perceive, and anticipation of possible events.

I warmly suggest that parishes contact their local sheriff or police department and ask for someone to come to do an active shooter examination of the property and a presentation.

Some additional reading.

In a fiction book by Lee Child, one of the Jack Reacher books, Gone Tomorrow, there are bullet points developed by Israelis for spotting terrorists.  It is excerpted and in the NYT.  HERE

The Telegraph has a lengthy piece about spotting suspicious people in airport security.  HERE

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Semper Paratus, Si vis pacem para bellum!, The Coming Storm, The future and our choices and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. robert hightower says:

    I read about in the early centuries, the Dominus Vobiscum before the offertory being an invitation for catechumens to leave, in the book The Mass Explained to Children by Montessori. Have circumstances in the world come to where we should consider a return to an exclusivity of attendance at the Mass of the Faithful?

  2. Charles E Flynn says:

    St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City has better security now than it did in 1988.

    September 23, 1988:
    A Killer in St. Patrick’s: Hospital to Jail to Death

  3. Diana says:

    Father, if I might suggest the blog of a friend of mine who is a very intelligent and generous police officer in Ohio. I have taken numerous classes with him on self defense, self defense with a knife, and other armed training courses (some at the Tactical Defense Institute, which I also highly recommend). He is highly skilled and a great teacher, bothy physically and verbally. I have learned a lot from him about situational awareness and self defense.

    He often writes about active shooter situations and other scenarios to get his readers thinking about how they would respond to situations, and he always offers very helpful advice. His website is called Active Response Training. He is an excellent trainer, and I highly recommend him if anyone wants to learn how to use a firearm, defend him or herself effectively, learn life-saving medical techniques in the occasion of an active shooter, and more.

    He has posted a few times about Church security, in fact, I just popped on his website and noticed that he’s compiled his Church Security articles into one post. (Some of his language may be a bit salty… so be forewarned!)

    He is a good man who does what he can to treat people with love and kindness, and to help others defend themselves and stay safe in a variety of situations.

    For women, might I also recommend an excellent book that convinced me to carry. It’s called The Cornered Cat, by Kathy Jackson. One of the things I loved about this book is that Kathy is a Christian, and she addresses the topic–would God want me to do this? I think her argument is a good one, especially for those with children. So for any ladies out there who are thinking about carrying, I recommend this book, and her blog is also very helpful.

    For me, I struggle with focusing on Mass and not being too aware/worried to the point of it distracting me from the Mass. I’m sure the devil would love to keep me worrying about active shooters throughout Mass instead of giving thanks for Christ’s sacrifice. I try to find a happy medium–or one that leans toward the Mass. That said, I’m in the choir, so I have a great vantage point from the loft, should I need to take a shot. God forbid that ever happen.

  4. JustaSinner says:

    My former parish asked that we not carry. Notice the most important word in the first sentence: former. Do I carry at Mass? I plead the second…

  5. joekstl says:

    Our parish has had active shooter training, needed especially since we have a school; and I know that at every Mass we have either off duty law enforcement or former LEOs, all of whom carry.

    Nothing is perfect but we try to be as prepared as possible.

  6. OssaSola says:

    In our former Texas diocese, the Bishop actually put out a statement saying he would prosecute anyone who’d intervened in deadly violence with a firearm, no matter if dozens of lives were saved. Most of us carried anyway.

    In our current Texas diocese, there is nothing posted as to whether guns are allowed. Most of us carry anyway.

    We have a son up on that altar.

    [Take your pick, judged by 12 or carried by 6.]

  7. KateD says:

    “people generally regress to their level of training…”

    Just yesterday I heard the unfortunate story of an officer who when he trained they would take turns being the perp and leo. The guy playing the perp would point the gun at the guy playing the leo. Good guy would disarm bad guy, then hand his partner back the gun, and they would continue practicing over and over. Then they’d switch and the other guy would practice taking the gun several times.

    The officer encountered an armed robbery and his training kicked in. He disarmed the bad guy and then immediately handed the bad guy back the gun. Muscle memory.


  8. JuliB says:

    I read that the shooter had been at the church before, and asked for money. But they had given him food instead. I believe this happened more than once.

    I have my carry license, so perhaps I should consider it. The Church I go to is in a changing, poor-ish neighborhood.

  9. floydf says:

    According to the local news, the shooter had “demons”. Showed up in a big coat, fake beard and long hair wig. Looks like a suicide, not like he was expecting to walk out alive.

    I am surprised that there aren’t more crazies shooting up churches. There are a LOT of crazies. Our personal circle of acquaintances have six off-spring who are schizos (all male). And one father who lost his life to one of them. It was gruesome (made the Internet). It’s really tragic: there is just no place for them to go except the street. There does seems to be something at this time preventing all of the schizos in the general population from wreaking mayhem in the churches. All of the pachamama craziness makes me wonder how much longer that restraint will last. My working assumption is that it won’t, and over the next year or so, it would not surprise me to see more situations like what happened out at the White Settlement church.

  10. APX says:


    Please be more respectful when speaking about those who suffer from mental illness. Not everyone who suffers from schizophrenia is a danger to society. There are varying degrees of schizophrenia, some more dangerous than others when not properly treated and medicated.

    People don’t choose to have mental illnesses anymore than they choose to have cancer. But there for the grace of God Go I.

  11. LT Brass Bancroft says:

    I don’t know if the FSSP parish where I attend Mass has any plan for such a situation, but my territorial NO parish has a “slash-circle over a gun” sign at each entrance. Any would-be shooter would be informed that guns are not allowed, so everyone should be safe.

  12. JonPatrick says:

    In a related issue, there are increasing number of attacks on churches in Europe from people with varying motives as this article points out:

    Much of it is underreported by the media, especially when militant Islam is involved.

  13. LatchkeyCatholic says:

    I was a sophomore at Virginia Tech in the spring of 2007. After that, I spent a lot of time thinking about active shooter situations while at Mass. All of the suggestions here – situational awareness, parishes having a plan in place, trained parishioners coming prepared – are wonderful and I sincerely hope they’re being implemented in many parishes and other churches. Still, the only thing that finally brought me back to a place where I could focus during Mass was a return to regular Confession (which I suppose I view as the ultimate situational awareness) and an intentional choice to attend Mass even when I (rationally or irrationally) fear there might be danger of some sort, with the hope that a meaningful decision of that sort will qualify for enough grace to boost me on my way should the unthinkable happen.

  14. bobbird says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z for defending our right to … self-defense!

    In Alaska we don’t need a course to protect ourselves. Concealed carry is a right, with banks and schools exempted. However, private property rights must be respected, so if a store owner or parish have a sign that says, “Please, no firearms”, the 2nd amendment or state guarantees to bear arms do not apply. Yes, it is hypocritical and UN-constitutional for liberals to apply the Constitution against property and religious rights, but 2 wrongs do not make a right.

    To PROPERLY understand the Constitution, we should remember that it 1) does NOT apply to the states, despite what SCOTUS rulings say, which is why state constitutions have cloned the Bill of Rights, so readers ought to check what their STATE constitutions have to say on this matter, 2) it certainly does NOT apply to individuals. A gov’t official takes an oath to the Constitution, but private citizens do NOT, which is why it is an outrage to cite “constitutional rights” against bakers and photographers; we can thank the “Civil Rights” Act of 1964 for that, 3) in the situation of a weird bishop who would prosecute people who saved lives, we should ask him why Jesus said two swords would be enough.

    If 1) and 2) seem unheard of, please consult Ron Paul and the late, great Joseph Sobran.

  15. Semper Gumby says:

    While training, regularly work in “tap-rack” drills in case of misfires and misfeeds. Dummy bullets can be purchased for that type of drill.

    Thanks JonPatrick for the Gatestone article.

    A few items:

    Violence against Christian sites is most widespread in France, where churches, schools, cemeteries and monuments are being vandalized, desecrated and burned at an average rate of three per day, according to government statistics.

    In Spain, attacks against churches and crosses are overwhelmingly carried out by anarchists, radical feminists and other far-left activists, who appear to be striving for Christianity to be permanently removed from the public square.

    In Britain, nearly half of all churches on the National Historical List for England have been ransacked. Many of the crimes are being attributed to highly organized gangs which use drones, online maps and global positioning systems first to identify their targets through aerial footage and then plot their own escape routes.

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  17. AlanLins says:

    Many parishes have Catholic Mutual as their insurance provider. I found the following which may be of interest:

    Catholic Mutual strongly recommends that employees or volunteers not be armed as
    part of your Safety and Security Plan. An armed employee or volunteer acting as
    security in all likelihood, would not be protected under the diocesan insurance
    program; thus exposing them to great personal risk should they be involved in an active
    shooter situation. Rather, we strongly recommend hiring armed security firms and/or
    active law enforcement whom require training and carry professional liability

    The full pdf is available at:

  18. jaykay says:

    Semper Gumby: “In Spain, attacks against churches and crosses are overwhelmingly carried out by anarchists, radical feminists and other far-left activists, who appear to be striving for Christianity to be permanently removed from the public square”

    With the possible exception of the second category of dingbats, they’ve been there before, haven’t they? Not so long ago, too. But the utterly distorted version of “history” taught now and over the preceding decades has made sure that there’s general ignorance of that fact. Even studying higher-level 19th & 20th century history at school in the 70s, and in a highly Catholic school at that, I was unaware of the satanic slaughter of Priests and Religious perpetrated by the lineal antecedents of said creatures until I took history in Uni. And even then you had to dig a bit to find out – it not being in the “approved narrative”.

  19. HvonBlumenthal says:

    Jaykay: quite. It’s sometimes said that the Spanish Civil War is the only case where history was written by the defeated.

    Did you know that Picasso’s Guernica was painted before Guernica was bombed? And that the first British journalist (a leftist) to arrive on the scene reported that more damage had been done by Republican dynamite than by Stukas?

  20. According to the reportage of George Neumayr, the USCCB is very big on gun control, with one bishop at the November conference in Baltimore saying that we need for Americans to have zero access to guns. At the same time, the USCCB is also very big on battalions of armed security at their four-star-hotel conferences. Even pastoral accompaniment has to have its limits.

  21. Daddio says:

    I suggest a consultation with Guardian Response – a security company established by my good friend who is a faithful Catholic.

    The Diocese of Fort Worth has taken steps to implement well trained emergency response teams at all parishes and schools, and it’s reassuring for parishioners to know that we are in good hands while we focus on worship.

    Sorry for the plug, but this is important, and there are good Catholics in the business now who can help all pastors to prepare for such events.

  22. Daddio says:

    FW Diocese statement. Thank you, Lord, for our bishop’s levelheaded thinking on this topic.

  23. Semper Gumby says:

    jaykay: Benedict XVI during a visit to Spain spoke of “aggressive secularism” and likened it to the anti-clericalism of the 1930s. The Zapatero government and the usual Leftist groups had the vapors, or maybe their heads spun around.

    Anita Moore OP (lay): I think that’s the same USCCB conference where finally one bishop stood up and said, “Not one mention yet of Jesus Christ.”

    There’s some good bishops out there, but the USCCB is mainly ridiculous. The USCCB called for unilateral nuclear disarmament in the 1980s, and their attempt to criticize the removal of the Saddam Hussein regime only demonstrated that the USCCB did not understand the basics of Just War Theory.

    Funny how those that screech the loudest for confiscating firearms are themselves protected by firearms.

  24. It’s a step in the right direction, at least.

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