Photo Credits: KSL.com
In a Haslet, Texas church, seven men wearing heavy vests and carrying pistols loaded with blanks ran toward the sound of the shots, stopping at the end of a long hallway. As one peeked into the foyer, the “bad guy” raised the muzzle of an AR-15, took aim and squeezed the trigger.
The simulated gunfight was part of a niche industry that trains civilians to protect their churces using the techniques and equipment of law enforcement.
The recent mass killings in religious institutions are the reason for some churches to start training and arming their worshippers with guns. Only this month these shootings killed more than 30 people at an El Paso Walmart and a Dayton, Ohio entertainment district.
“Ten years ago, this industry was not a thing,” said David Riggall, a Texas police officer whose company trains churchgoers to volunteer as security guards. “I mean, sanctuary means a safe place.” Riggall’s company, Sheepdog Defense Group, trains volunteers in first aid, threat assessment, de-escalation techniques, using a gun and tactical skills, such as clearing rooms during an active shooting.
The company incorporates Christian teachings into its courses and more than 90 people at 18 churches have completed the 70 hours of initial training, thereby becoming state-licensed guards through its program, Riggall said. The so-called sheepdogs are insured and technically employed by the company. But they volunteer doing security at their own churches, which in turn pay Riggall.
Texas has passed some bills that allow weapons to be carried in churches and also in schools. Senate Bill 535 clarifies the possession of firearms at churches, synagogues or other places of worship. It allows licensed handgun owners to legally carry their weapons in places of worship -- and comes nearly two years after a gunman killed 26 people at a Sutherland Springs church.
There are security teams at churches in other states too. For instance, a Pentecostal church of 300 members in Ava, Missouri, has no paid security guards but a team of 18 church members who keep fellow congregants safe.
Not all security experts support this approach because more guns in the building can potentially cause more accidents to happen.
Fellowship of the Parks allows congregants to have concealed weapons in church. But the pastor said that, other than security, people carrying openly are asked to put their guns away or leave.
“If people open carry who are not uniformed that can be very unsettling,” the pastor said. “You may not know if that person is a possible shooter or criminal, so we try to balance it.”