Of all the issues regarding safety and security at a church the most contentious is likely to be the issue of whether or not to have armed guards. Many churches call this a ‘Sheep Dog Ministry’, evoking the image of a dog protecting a flock of sheep from a ravening wolf. The ethical and practical concerns of establishing this kind of ministry are potentially very divisive. I am not going to tell you I have the answer for this set of questions, but give you some things to work through your own process of making a decision.
As Sheriff Marcoux stated during our meeting a few weeks ago the entire question is a ‘no-win’ scenario. In the best of circumstances a trained person with a firearm will still be heavily influenced by adrenaline and may miss hitting an assailant. Even worse, in the confusion of an active shooter scenario there is a high likelihood of collateral damage. In other words, the person protecting others may end up shooting an innocent person either as a missed shot or through the body of the perpetrator (a so-called through-and-through shot). In a recent incident in Vermont two trained officers fatally shot a man, but out of the 12 shots fired only 3 hit their target. This was from a fairly close distance, a relatively static target and in a situation with no one else close. This is no reflection on the officers, just a fact that is well-known. Under stress, and especially when being fired upon, accuracy is diminished. Now, imagine the reaction an untrained person might have if they are carrying a firearm in your church. This is why most Sheep Dog Ministry advocates recommend utilizing off duty police officers and active duty or retired military members in their congregation to form the core team. Careful vetting of the core team members is vital.
On the other hand, making the decision to avoid this ministry and not having a method of fighting back against an active shooter means the assailant is coming into a ‘target-rich’ environment. This is similar to a shooter coming into any other area where firearms are not permitted, such as a school, a courthouse or a sporting event. Remember, the typical active shooter scenario lasts 6 minutes, and it takes about as long as that for the police to get on site. The shooter knows they can walk in and have 5 to 10 minutes of time before the police arrive, so they can shoot as many people as they can in that length of time. If they are in full-on ‘suicide by cop’ mode, they will not be thinking of their safety, just killing anyone they can before they themselves are taken out.
Key to this question is what the leadership of the church and the congregation are willing to live with. This can only be decided on the level of the individual church. Regardless of the internal discussion, strict confidentiality on this should be held. Either way any public advertisement of your stance should be avoided. You don’t want to attract shooters (“We would NEVER allow firearms in our church!”) or turn away people who might be afraid of or opposed to firearms (“We are a PROUD concealed carry church!”).
All of these concerns need to be taken into account, and you should know right up front that settling these issues is not a panacea. Even if your church decides to form a Sheep Dog ministry, there are many other pieces to consider. For instance, what do you do if the Sheep Dog(s) is among the first people neutralized by the assailant? Weighty questions, indeed.
There are other possibilities in our scenario and other responses, and we will touch on a couple of those in Part 4 of this series. We will also consider motivation of the assailant. Why did they choose your building to hit? What could you have done beforehand? What is the number one security threat to the typical church?
Please join us as we work this through.
“34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.”