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It's time for more parishioners to lock and load when they go to church

November 13, 2017, at The Hill

By John R. Lott, Jr.


There are simply too many targets for police to be able to guard everyone. And even when they are in the right place at the right time, an officer’s uniform is like a neon sign saying, “Shoot me first.” 

It’s also not realistic to keep terrorists and criminals from getting weapons. The war on guns has been as much of a failure as the war on drugs. Terrorists can also resort to homemade bombs, and have lately made a habit of using vehicles as weapons. 

What happens when background checks on gun purchases inevitably fail to stop these killers from attacking? What is the backup plan?

Shortly after the attack at the Sutherland Springs church on Nov. 5, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) warned: “This is going to happen again, and so we need people in churches — either professional security, or at least arming some of the parishioners or the congregation — so that they can respond if something like this… when something like this happens again.”

An article in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday discussed how parishioners across the country are starting to carry permitted concealed handguns at church.

Paxton isn’t alone in his view that people have to take responsibility for their own safety. Ron Noble, the Secretary General of INTERPOL from 2000 to 2014, cautioned that even with “extraordinary security,” it would be virtually impossible to keep weapons out of soft targets. This means that only the terrorists will have weapons.

Permit holders have stopped dozens of would-be mass public shootings in malls, churches, schools, universities and town centers. Gun control advocates perennially fear that a permit holder will accidentally shoot a bystander, or that a police officer will accidentally harm a permit holder. But this has never happened in a mass public shooting.

Permit holders are also incredibly law-abiding. According to my research, Americans as a whole commit crimes 37 times more frequently than do police officers, but police themselves commit crimes at seven times the rate of permit holders in Florida and Texas.

The heroic actions of Stephen Willeford on Nov. 5 are a testament to the power of a good guy with a gun. He saved many lives at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The killer, Devin Kelley, was circling back to shoot the wounded when Willeford showed up with a rifle. Willeford’s fast actions stopped Kelley’s attack, saving the lives of the twenty wounded and possibly many more.

But Willeford isn’t alone. Permit holders have stopped some other church attacks over the last decade. For example:

  • Antioch, Tenn., Sept. 24, 2017: A shooter, Emanuel Kidega Samson, killed one and injured seven others. But the attack could have been much worse. An usher, Robert Engle, first tried unsuccessfully to wrestle the Samson, a very large bodybuilder. But Samson was slightly injured in the skirmish, giving Engle a chance to retrieve his permitted concealed handgun from his car. Engle went back into the church and managed to hold the attacker at gunpoint until police arrived.
  • Spartanburg, S.C., March 25, 2012: Jesse Gates kicked open a church door and pointed a shotgun at the pastor and his congregation. Parishioner Aaron Guyton, a concealed weapons permit holder, got the drop on Gates and held him at gunpoint. Sheriff Chuck Wright called Aaron and others at the church, “everyday heroes.”
  • Colorado Springs, Colo., Dec. 9, 2007: Matthew Murray killed two people in the Colorado Springs New Life Church parking lot before being shot by church member Jeanne Assam. A wounded Murray then committed suicide. The church was a mega church with over 10,000 members, and Murray had over a thousand rounds of ammunition. Assam had gotten a concealed handgun permit to protect herself from an ex, and was a volunteer security guard at the church. 

Normally, churches are easy targets. Some killers have even picked churches for precisely this reason.

  • Charleston, S.C., June 17, 2015: Dylann Roof originally targeted Charleston College, but friend Christon Scriven has suggested that Roof switched targets because of worries that armed security would stop him. “I don’t think the church was his primary target, because he told us he was going for the school,” Scriven said. “But I think he couldn’t get into the school because of the security … so I think he just settled for the church.” 
  • Detroit, Mich., Feb. 2016: The FBI fortunately foiled a plan by Khalil Abu Rayyan to engage in a mass public shooting at one of the largest churches in the Detroit area. The FBI tapped the individual’s phone calls, and heard the chilling words: “It’s easy, and a lot of people go there. Plus people are not allowed to carry guns in church. Plus it would make the news.“

Both Michigan and South Carolina prohibit concealed handguns in church. That's not surprising — these mass public shootings happen practically every single time in gun free zones. Over 98 percent of all mass public shootings since 1950 have taken place in areas where general citizens are prohibited from carrying firearms.

We can’t just keep ignoring the fact that killers pick targets where people can’t defend themselves. We should be a lot more afraid of the killers than we should be of permit holders. It’s understandable not to want to even think about self-defense while praying at church. 

But these attacks become massacres when there's no one to fight back. Permit holders who carry in the course of daily life should be able to bring their guns to church. They should be able to protect their fellow worshipers.


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