Does Your Church Have a Shooter Policy?

Does Your Church Have a Shooter Policy? December 17, 2015

It’s crazy that I need to ask you this question, but for the sake of all involved, does everyone at your church know what to do if a shooter shows up? I know that there are a lot of opinions, on both sides of the gun issue, but your leadership needs to have this critical discussion.

After the church shooting in South Carolina, I remember a pastor saying that if everyone were packing this wouldn’t have happened. And even though many combat veterans, SWAT members, and police officials say otherwise, there’s a firm belief among some (many who are in your church) that only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.

What are you going to do?

Think about this for a minute—visualize it in your mind. It’s the middle of a service, the minister is up front praying, and someone bursts into the sanctuary with an assault rifle and starts firing. It’s going to be instant chaos—people will be diving to the floor and running for exits. It’s going to be chaos.

Now imagine one or many other people in your congregation stand up and start returning fire from various areas of your sanctuary. Now the mayhem is amplified. Honestly, people carrying firearms in your congregation are going to have different training and readiness for a situation like that, despite what they’ve learned from watching action films.

Can you see the problems that could develop in a crowded church if your leadership team hasn’t come up with a plan and communicated it?

Things you need to know/consider

Do you know who is carrying in your church? Have you come to a consensus on how you feel about that as a church, and what you’re communicating about it?

If you do subscribe to the idea that you’re safer with people carrying weapons into your church, are they placed strategically? Do they have the leadership’s blessing to stand up wherever they are (even if they have to shoot over the panicked heads of their fellow congregants) and start firing at potential danger? Do you need to deputize a couple of people and ask others not to return fire?

I know . . . it seems crazy for me to have to write it.

Do you have a way to communicate with and lock down kids classes and the nursery? How about if a shooter starts there?

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but let’s be honest, it’s getting more and more likely that this is a reality that we need to prepare ourselves for.

Here are some things I would encourage you to do:

  1. Find out who what the concealed carry laws are in your town.
  2. Find out how many concealed weapons might be in your church. (You might send out an email asking people with concealed weapons permits to alert the leadership if they are carrying in church, but there’s a high likelihood that many won’t tell you. You can also send out a free survey via SurveyMonkey).
  3. Discuss scenarios with the leadership and decide whether you want to allow guns in your sanctuary. Under the law in most states, to prohibit carrying a firearm in church the church is required to post a sign saying that no guns are allowed, at every entrance to the building.
  4. If you decide to allow firearms in your church, you need to consider the possibility that there are quite a few. It’s probably best that you don’t leave it open to everyone’s best judgment on what to do in a high-stakes, dangerous situation. The leadership team needs to have this conversation and communicate it openly at an open meeting and in writing.
  5. Look through all areas of ministry and consider the security that’s in place. Do teachers and helpers know what to do if a gunman/woman is in the church?

I can’t believe I have sat down to write this all out. It seems so insane, but it looks like we’re at the place where we need to accept this is the way of life in America. I guess we need to consider how it will affect the people in our care.

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  • Tom Saunders

    Thank you for addressing this topic. I was in church a few weeks after a mass shooting in our town when man began disrupting the service in the back. It turned out that he was suffering from a mental illness and was not a danger (and was unarmed). A church member with a background in behavioral health was able to diffuse the situation without violence, but everyone was on edge after what had happened in our town. I support the right to bear arms, but I’m glad no one pulled a gun in that situation.

  • Brendt Wayne Waters

    I’d like to make a revision/addition to this list. Up until recently (the last few years), it was illegal in Georgia for non-LO persons to carry a weapon — open or concealed — into a house of worship. Now it’s legal, and left to the discretion of each church.

    Given the fact that most Georgians are born with a gun in their hand, it strikes me as improbable that we were the last state to legalize firearms in a church. So step 1 is probably to check out THAT law in your state.