Church Security Teams – Get It Right

The shooting at the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, TX, has – obviously – received tons of coverage, some good, mostly bad, some indifferent. Most of the bad that I read boils down to one common theme – “See, we need more armed people in our church buildings!”

Um, no we don’t.

What we need to seriously consider is having well trained and fully qualified individuals who know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it to serve as a security team, if it is decided that having armed individuals is necessary.

I viewed the video that recorded the shooting. It must be said that the member of the security team that actually killed the assailant was the owner of a shooting range, and is a highly trained and skilled marksman. It must also be pointed out that there were multiple egregious errors committed by others who drew their weapons on that morning, and if just a couple of events had played out differently, the scene could have evolved into a bloody disaster.

What was done right: it cannot be repeated enough that the member of the security team that killed the assailant acted heroically. He fired until the threat was gone and no more. His marksmanship was perfect. In short, he acted far and above what the average person could be expected to perform – he was trained and practiced to a level of “unconscious competence.” Also, because of the erratic dress and behavior of the assailant, the security team had a surveillance camera directed in his direction, and more than one member of the security team was monitoring his actions. Still, he was able to confront a member, draw his weapon, and fire three shots before he could be stopped. This points to the incredible surprise and speed with which these events occur. Finally, a number of members immediately started getting people away from the shooting. I cannot imagine the terror those members were feeling, and the quick response by a number of members was admirable.

What was bad, but thankfully not ultimately critical: In the seconds following the shooting a small army of security team members approached the perpetrator (who, at that point, was not visible to many of them) with their handguns drawn. Some used excellent muzzle control, others just swept their guns out and “muzzled” large numbers of panicked church members. Within mere seconds the team actually formed a semi-circle around the downed assailant – exposing a number of them to cross fire had the perpetrator been able to continue shooting. The potential for “friendly fire” injuries was terrifying. True, the assailant was dead (or dying), but within those first few seconds there was no way of knowing how badly, or even if, he was injured. Handgun wounds are typically not immediately fatal (in this particular case the shot that felled him must have been a central nervous system wound or directly in the heart) and people have lived for many minutes even after receiving an ultimately fatal handgun wound.

I guess what concerned me the most was that everyone had their attention focused on this one individual. I have to be careful here – the camera did not reveal everyone in the auditorium and there may have been others who had their backs to the first shooting and were focused on the other half of the auditorium. But one thing that was drilled into me as an instructor in a university setting – if there is one assailant you always, always, assume there is an accomplice or trailing assailant. I realize you can play “shoulda, woulda, coulda” all day long, but had there been a second shooter the results could have been disastrous. I truly hope that there were members of the security team (off camera) that were serving as guards and had their attention fully focused on the part of the auditorium that was not on screen.

The bottom line for what I want to say is this: this event demonstrated the need for congregations to consider employing a well educated and well trained and thoroughly practiced security team to protect their members. It was not, in and of itself, a demonstration for the willy-nilly, wild-west, “everybody needs a six-shooter” kind of knee-jerk reaction to the potential of an armed assailant. This event – from the first shot to the last – took six seconds. Think of it – six seconds and the assailant killed two church members and fired a third shot before he was killed. The speed at which the defender recognized the situation, drew his weapon and fired an incredibly difficult shot is simply beyond what most people could accomplish. This event is not an excuse for John or Jane Doe who takes his or her gun to the shooting range maybe once every six months to suddenly transition into Barney Fife and start carrying a lethal weapon that has the potential for destroying large numbers of innocent victims, all in the name of self-defense. This congregation did a lot of things right, I cannot stress that enough – and there were still a number of very serious and potentially fatal mistakes that were made. That should serve as a very stark warning – even with the best of plans and best of intentions bad things can happen. Even in this event the results were tragic – two saints lost their lives due to the pure evil of a deranged individual. If it were not for the plans, and training, and incredible skill of one individual, the carnage could have been unspeakable.

If you are a member of any congregation, do not think that this could never happen to you. The hatred for any form of religion is growing, and the need for notoriety and the depth of human depravity means that these events will continue. We must be vigilant to protect the most vulnerable in our congregations, and if that means we must train certain members to the level of “unconscious competence” demonstrated by this armed protector, then we must at least consider the option. Having such a team may not be the proper response for every congregation – some may prefer to face any such event with no armed members. That is a legitimate choice for a congregation to make, and there are reasons to make such a choice that I would not condemn. However, if your congregation does decide to use an armed security team, please, please, for everyone’s safety and for the sake of intelligent, moral, behavior – make sure that each team member is properly educated, trained, and practiced to avoid the injury to innocent bystanders.

Author: Paul Smith

Paul Smith was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He holds the Bachelor of Science in Youth Ministry, Master of Biblical Studies and Master of Divinity, all from Abilene Christian University; and the Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Paul's passion is in teaching and preaching the gospel. Beyond the study of the Bible, his main academic interest is in the life and theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He is an unashamed mountain-goat, and longs to spend his time with his feet in a cold trout stream.

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