In Part One I explained how a facility needs to address the more common safety and security issues before planning to address a multi casualty incident such as an active shooting. This time we’ll talk about active shooter situations. As horrific as active shootings are, we can be grateful that they are still a relative rare occurrence. Research by Dr. John Lott and others has shown that almost all active shooting incidents have occurred in locations that ban, restrict, or discourage legally armed individuals from being armed in that area or facility. There are several examples where legal restrictions or the posting of a sign identifying the location as being a “Gun Free Zone” was the reason a location was selected as a target for the shooting attack.
The logic for this is simple. Because the media coverage of these incidents throughout the world tend to emphasize the number of people killed or injured, those who choose to commit these horrible attacks now seem to be challenged to get the highest body count possible before they are killed. A school, a hospital, a church: any place where those inside are unable to defend themselves – either because of their smaller stature, reduced physical abilities, or a lack of weapons to defend themselves – becomes a target rich environment.
In preparing to select a location, active shooters know a restaurant-bar that is hosting a police officer’s retirement party is not a good choice for their needs. There is a great likelihood that the location would have many well trained and armed individuals inside – making the chance the shooter gets shot and killed right away much more likely than the shooter getting a high victim body count. With the ever-widening popularity of citizens getting concealed carry permits, the potential active shooter now has to worry about some legally armed citizen in the crowd who might be armed and able to stop them before they can get very far in their plan.
In a house of worship Pastors, Ministers, Priests, and other religious leaders have the responsibility as holy shepherds to not only feed their spiritual needs, but to protect their flocks from evil. We put our trust in God, not only in watching over us, but also to guide us as we act to protect ourselves and our families. The best way to achieve protection of those under their purview is not to address the problem after it has happened, but to instead prevent it from happening in the first place. I have heard of some religious leaders advocating posting signage outside their facilities, identifying these areas as not allowing weapons – ironically, making these locations more likely to become targets of violence.
I don’t want to debate whether armed people in a house of worship is a good idea – but I will say, regardless of what the religious organization may desire, guns will be more and more likely to be present during services. Any house of worship that has plans in place to address an active shooter without the use of firearms (Run, Hide, Fight – or evacuate the facility and respond to assist any who might be wounded, etc.), also needs to understand that if someone starts shooting innocent people in their facility, there is a very good chance that there will be defensive gunfire directed back at the assailant by those legally armed individuals present – something that needs to be acknowledged in any response plan. If those developing plans think a sign on the outside of the facility will keep guns out – they are wrong. Every day, metal detectors and potentially invasive searches regularly miss guns (see examples of TSA staff at airport checkpoints) – a posted sign will be a lot less effective.
You should plan and expect good guys with guns to be in your facility at any time. Those who are legally armed will likely be carrying concealed, and will not be readily identifiable to the untrained eye. Current law enforcement officers, be they affiliated with federal, state, or local agencies are likely – maybe even required – to be armed when they attend services. In many states, citizens who have active and current concealed carry permits can also carry inside a church (know the law in your area). Very often, entering a private facility that has “No Guns Allowed” signs while legally armed, is not a legal violation – the notice is considered to have the same legal weight as a “No Shirt or Shoes – No Service” sign. However, if confronted because you are armed – or barefoot – and asked to leave, you must do so or potentially be subject to arrest for trespassing.
Houses of worship can have some control over whether those who serve as ushers, deacons, volunteers, etc., are armed when at the facility and representing the organization. Some will prevent their volunteers from being armed, others require some or all to be armed, and many others – don’t want to deal with the reality or responsibility – and would prefer to not know if their volunteers are armed, or not. Some organizations have legal representatives who may get involved, and prefer to play the odds – the chances of an active shooter attack in the facility are a lot less likely than having one of the ushers have a gun related incident (such as a negligent discharge of their firearm), where someone might get hurt and bring liability and civil litigation into the mix. Some organizations may seek to “subcontract the problem” and hire security or armed guards as a deterrent – but with limited budgets, most cannot afford that. Even if money to do so is available, those paid something just above minimum wage have no vested interest in making sure the facility is actually safe – something that gives an advantage to members of the congregation who volunteer to assume responsibility for those duties.
If an organization chooses to allow volunteers to be armed while representing them in the facility, let me make a few suggestions before doing so. The organization should take steps to ensure those who are armed obtain and maintain additional training well above and beyond those required of a typical CCW permit holder. To obtain a concealed carry permit, many states only require a very basic course of fire (30-50 rounds at close distances with no time limit), and require a live fire qualification course of fire be passed only once every five years – when the permit is renewed.
Compare that to requirement of many armed security guards or law enforcement officers who must train regularly and re-qualify annually, twice a year, or even more frequently. The live fire qualification courses of fire for these armed individuals typically involve time limits, movement, and longer distances. Having armed volunteers train and re-qualify twice a year to maintain their armed status on a safety team is a very reasonable minimum standard to implement. Requiring additional training demonstrates the organization’s commitment to protecting their members and guests, and with more training, volunteers are more competent in firearms manipulation, thereby reducing the chances of an unintended firearms discharge.
Additional training that focuses on the unique circumstances present in a crowded event also needs to be included. Part of that training should include realistic scenarios where the limitations of armed response need to be emphasized. Imagine having a person shooting people fifty or seventy feet from where you are standing. Making that shot at the range during a training session is doable. Now add one-hundred people who are between you and the threat, all of them moving, many of them running directly at and past you as they are trying to get to safety. That fifty-foot shot is now practically impossible to make for most shooters, and should probably not be attempted, especially when the chance of hitting innocent people is great.
However, having learned and practiced how to move through a crowd, keeping your firearm holstered as you close the distance, drawing the pistol only as you get close enough to make an accurate shot – you get within ten or fifteen feet, drop to one knee (getting an upward angle to greatly reduce the chance of hitting an innocent), and shoot to stop the carnage. This is a more reasonable situation, a shot more likely to be made with less chance of harming others. Those who are armed as team members need to understand how and why this is different shooting situation than the 50-70 foot shot through a crowd.
Do you have fire extinguishers in your facility, and are your staff trained to properly use them? Of course you do. As Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (Ret.) has discussed in his writings, we have spent decades making the danger fire poses to people and structures an integral part of building safety – just as we have emphasized evacuation procedures by doing fire drills since we were kids in grammar school. We also wear seatbelts in case we are in a vehicle crash, and wear flotation devices when boating. Now, as other risks to public safety are becoming of more concern to us (specifically: multi-casualty incidents), we must also spend time planning for the chance of their occurrence.
Even if the plan is only to help evacuate and respond to assist injured victims, at least until better trained emergency responders arrive, team members should have some amount of appropriate equipment and training. The U.S. Department of Homeland security has a “Stop the Bleed” program that seeks to make the training and equipment needed in multi-casualty incidents as common as CPR, fire extinguishers, and AED machines are today. They have material available to help you set up kits for the treatment of traumatic injuries present in a multi-casualty situation (tourniquets, pressure bandages, clotting agents, etc.). Funding grants for purchase of equipment is available, and training for team members to use the equipment is also available at low or no cost.
While we plan for the worst and hope for the best, we also strive to deter or prevent. Preventing an attack is always preferable to having to respond should an attack. Remember the story of the two campers in the woods. A bear suddenly breaks out of the brush and charges the campers. One starts putting on his running shoes – the other says “you can’t outrun the bear!” The other responds “I don’t have to outrun the bear…. I only need to outrun you!” Make your facility look stronger and harder to attack than another facility, and the “bear” will go after that more vulnerable target.
When you place team members in key locations, where they are alert, aware and know what to look for, you can often avoid trouble. If your staff is paying attention, and possibly armed and able to stop an armed attack (whether they are armed or not, the chance they might be can still be an effective deterrent) – you are less likely to be selected as a target. Those who want to create terror will do some sort of surveillance or pre-event check of the facility they plan to attack – looking for weaknesses they can utilize to their advantage. If the Safety Team members are in positions at or near each entrance, obviously visually scanning those who enter the facility, and possibly even approaching those they don’t recognize with a friendly interaction “Good morning and welcome, are you visiting with us today? My name is Fred, and you are…?” you can catch them completely off guard. Remember – anonymity is the key to a successful attack, and an alert and aware Safety Team takes that away from a potential attacker.
The best solution involves a multi-level approach.
- We must first accept and acknowledge that our world has changed, we can no longer consider ourselves somehow protected or safe when in church. We have always been prepared to fight against evil outside the walls of our houses of worship – we now need to prepare ourselves to do so should evil try and enter inside to hurt us.
- We need to take advantage of the incredible resources we already have available in our midst, volunteers. Specifically, those who have a strong connection with our organization, a desire to serve, and a deep commitment to make sure their friends and family are secure. Those with medical training and law enforcement or military experience are especially valuable.
- Getting training, with emphasis on basic observation skills, with a focus in being aware, alert, and avoiding trouble – combined with some knowledge of what to look for, and we can very often prevent problems before they happen. Our goal is to make anyone who considers an attack at your facility decide it’s not worth it, and choose to go to an easier target.
- Because we can’t always stop bad things from happening, we need to have training and equipment to deal with traumatic injuries can help if an incident occurs in the facility. This is not just about shootings, it could be a variety of situations where multiple people are injured.
- And, if appropriate, following much serious consideration, having team members appropriately trained and authorized to carry weapons in the facility may be an option to consider.
Violent incidents may still be rare, but it is also unlikely they will end anytime soon. We need to accept this reality, and plan ahead – being prepared should a multi-casualty incident such as an active shooter situation occur where we shop, work, go for entertainment or recreation – or, where we worship.