Defend This House … of Worship

Look around. Take it all in. Where are the exits? Where are the choke points if people start to panic? What provides cover? What provides concealment? If someone walked in and started shooting, where would you go? What would you do? Have you discussed the options with your family? Which seat provides you the best field of view? Where would be the best place to engage an attacker? Can you navigate the pews to get to an escape route? Will the shooter attack the pulpit or the congregation? Are you upset that we are talking about fighting inside a church, synagogue or other house of worship?

Situational awareness should not stop at the church door. Your personal-protection plan must include a discussion of what to do inside a church if someone causes a commotion or, worse yet, starts shooting.

Too often we ignore our safety inside houses of worship. Many of us simply assume everything will be fine. Some people are so emotional about the thought of an attack on a church that they can’t even think or talk about it. They simply put their heads in the sand and hope it will never happen. Hope is not an effective defense. Hope gets people killed.

Recently we invited noted security expert Ron Aguiar to be part of the USCCA Proving Ground series. We found a real church with a pastor who worried about safety and worshipers and who actually had a security team in place. With permission of the pastor and the help of volunteers, we tested the reactions of the security team leader and a member of his team.

If you’ve not been inside a church where a lunatic is firing a rifle, even a UTM-equipped rifle firing battlefield blanks, the feeling is surreal. Stained glass. Flowers. Images of the Savior. These things seem to disappear as two men engage in the potentially deadly dance that is a gunfight in front of the altar.

Where would you go? What would you do? One volunteer role player saw the rifle and immediately exited the sanctuary without alerting the rest of the flock. When the shooting started, people scattered. Some got trapped in dead ends as they looked for an exit. Others fell to the ground hoping not to be seen. Parents shielded their children and the lone, armed security guard, an experienced law enforcement officer, reverted to his police training. That training told him to create distance, seek cover and fire at the shooter. It was precisely the wrong thing to do in that situation. This was not a gunfight at a traffic stop on the side of the road. This was a shootout with a mass murderer inside a crowded church.

When the smoke from the battlefield blanks had cleared and people were able to take a close look at what had happened during the fear and surprise of a sudden assault, everyone had questions.

The volunteers knew this attack was coming. They just didn’t know when or from where. Even with advance warning, many still panicked. Some froze. Some fled only to find their chosen route blocked. Everyone wanted to know what they should have done. Ron Aguiar was there to offer up his insights.

This upcoming edition of Proving Ground prompted questions concerning just about every element of church security and showed at least one would-be protector that intuitive actions might not be correct in a crowded room.

Evil exists, and it has too often set upon our houses of worship, where people should feel safe and secure. But the truth is simple: Have a plan. Be ready. Be willing to talk about the unthinkable before you are faced with a life-or-death decision.

I hope you’ll join us for the next edition of the Proving Ground. It will give you plenty to think about.

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