Thursday, March 1

Guns in Church? An Armed Citizen's Perspective

Note: This article is written by Matt Larson. Matt is writing from the prospective of being an armed citizen. Matt is not a LEO; however, he does have extensive experience in emergency operations as a former fire and rescue chief and paramedic. Matt does a great job in this article presenting information on current laws and regulations related to carrying guns. Matt also does a fantastic job stressing the importance of gun safety!

Guns in Church?  An Armed Citizen's Perspective
By: Matt Larson

Throughout the United States, more and more private citizens are lawfully carrying firearms concealed on their person for protection.  In every state but one (Illinois), some form of lawful concealed carry is in place.  In most states, any law abiding citizen who meets minimum training standards must be given a permit to carry a firearm upon application.  In three states, no permit is required – anyone who can lawfully own a gun can carry it concealed.

In a few states, lawfully armed citizens are prohibited from carrying in places of worship. These states are:

· Georgia (Bill in committee to allow carry) {Updated}

· Arkansas
· Louisiana
· Michigan
· Missouri (unless given permission by the minister or similar official)
· Mississippi
· North Dakota
· South Carolina (unless authorized)
· Texas
· Utah (if posted)

Statistically speaking, if your church is not in one of these states, Illinois, or the District of Columbia, the overwhelming probability is that one or more persons in your congregation are armed.

But having an organized, formalized armed response team is another matter entirely.  I would strongly encourage any church considering organizing such a team get an attorney involved from the outset.  There are a great many legal pitfalls here, and having competent legal counsel is vital.  Just one example is that in many states, if you are employed as a security guard – even as a volunteer – your concealed carry permit does not permit you to carry a firearm in that capacity.

All of that said, I am writing this more from the perspective of the armed citizen, and I am going to leave the organizational aspects to others.  Two excellent articles have already been posted here on these topics, and I would advise anyone interested in the field to read them.

I want to talk about 4 things in this article.  The first is safety, and some of the safety measures that should be in place where people are going to be armed.  Then, I want to discuss the three phases of an armed conflict: preparation, the fight, and the aftermath.


Safety is and must always be the first concern.  Take, for example, the recent tragic death of a young parishioner in a Tampa, Florida church.  A member of the congregation was showing a firearm to another member.  He believed that he had unloaded the gun, and handed it to the other person.  That person pointed the gun at the wall of the closet they were in and pulled the trigger.  The gun discharged, and the bullet passed through the wall and struck a young woman in the head, fatally wounding her.

There are 4 cardinal rules of firearm safety:





The incident above violated all four, and a life was lost as a result.  Beyond that, there was no sufficient reason for the gun to have been handled there and then. 

But the incident raises a valid safety concern.  If you are going to have an organized group of people carrying firearms in your church, you need to provide a safe area for any unavoidable handling of the guns.  This includes a safe direction in which to orient the firearm when handling it, such as an outside brick or concrete wall, a sand bucket, or a commercial product designed to absorb an unintended discharge.


Preparation encompasses everything one does before the outset of violent hostilities.  This includes training, mindset and practice.  I'll be blunt – if your only training was the 2 hour long class needed to get your permit and your only practice is standing in a range booth calmly punching holes in stationary pieces of paper, you are not trained to use a gun in a defensive situation.  If you are not mentally prepared to align the sights of your pistol on another human being and kill him or here, you are not ready to use a gun in a defensive situation.  If you never practice with your firearm, you are not ready to use a gun in a defensive situation. 

In my opinion, anyone who carries a firearm for protection should invest in quality training on at least an annual basis.  There are many qualified defensive shooting instructors throughout the country who offer classes for the armed citizen.  Defensive shooting is a shooting discipline unto itself.  You must learn to draw from the holster while moving.  You must learn to shoot while moving.  You must learn not just how, but when to shoot.  These are perishable skills, and you will need to refresh them from time to time.  As a well known shooting author once said, "Thinking yourself armed because you own a gun is like thinking yourself a musician because you own a piano".

Mindset encompasses the will to deploy force against another human being, potentially including taking a human life.  This is a moral and ethical decision that every person who owns a firearm for defense should seriously consider.  One must understand that the criminal doesn't struggle with this issue – for many serious criminals violence is a way of life, and they will deploy it at will.  Understand that the gun is not a talisman which will protect you from harm by it's mere presence. Understand that once the gun has been drawn, the conflict is going to end with the assailant surrendering or with bloodshed.  Once you have rung that bell, it cannot be un-rung. 

Practice is necessary to preserve the skills you have learned.  Shooting skills are perishable and degrade with time.  I would strongly urge anyone who carries a gun for protection to actively participate in IDPA, USPSA, Steel Challenge, or any other shooting sport that requires you to shoot while moving, shoot at moving targets, etc.  If your only training and practice is to stand in one place and shoot at a stationary paper target, then the chances are that you will stand in one place and trade gunfire with an assailant.  This is a proven, time tested recipe for getting yourself killed.

 The fight

Hopefully, it never comes to this, the actual life-and-death fight to save yourself or someone else from imminent death or great bodily injury.  This is the moment every serious student of the defensive pistol trains to avoid at all costs.

But the bad guys get to make plans, too.  And sometimes their plans work out better than ours.

I am not going to get into shoot / don't shoot criteria here.  The law varies from state to state, and this is a topic you should have picked up in training.  Know your local laws. 

I just want to touch on a few points here.  The first is that when it is time to fight, fight.   Consider the nightmare scenario of an intruder opening fire in a church service.  People are being hurt or killed.  This is what is known as an "active shooter" scenario. This is no time for discussion.  This is no time for "fairness".  You are not obligated to warn the shooter, or give him a chance to surrender, or talk him into seeing the nature of his wicked ways.  All of that is just a good way to get yourself or someone else killed.

If the fight is on, you need to finish it now.  If you have a clear shot on the active shooter, take it.  Prosecute the fight to the conclusion – shoot him to the ground.  Continue shooting until the threat stops. 

Understand that real life shootings are nothing like the movies or TV.  Rare indeed is the single gunshot than instantly incapacitates an assailant, who then falls bloodlessly and silently to the floor.  Reality is much uglier.  Even after suffering a mortal wound, a human being can continue to fight for a couple minutes or more. A bad guy can fire a lot of shots in those couple of minutes…

Make sure the fight is over before you holster your gun.  Remember that wolves travel in packs, and do a good scan of the area before you assume everything is over.

The aftermath

The worst has happened.  You’ve been forced to shoot another human being to protect yourself and / or someone else.  The assailant is lying on the ground in a pool of blood, perhaps thrashing and screaming.  People are panicked.  Hopefully, nobody else is injured, but that may well not be the case.
What you say and do in the next few minutes and hours will have an impact that lasts the rest of your life. 

Hopefully, your church has a disaster plan that includes handling medical emergencies, and at least basic first aid can be administered to the wounded.  Which brings us to a serious item to consider – how to handle the wounded assailant.  Do you attempt to treat him?  How do you know he doesn't have another weapon?  These are things you should consider long before you have to make the decision.  Remember that whole preparation thing?

In short order, the police are going to arrive, along with ambulances, fire trucks, reporters and gawkers of all kinds.  The first thing you need to do is avoid having a "blue on blue" situation. 

The police are arriving at the scene of a shooting.  They don't know you, or the guy on the floor with all the holes in him.  They are going to secure the scene and make sure nobody else is harmed.  If you're standing in the middle of the room with a gun in your hand, things can go bad in a hurry.  We naturally turn toward sounds that we don't expect, and if you have a gun in your hand and turn toward the arriving police officers, they may well take you as a threat and respond accordingly.

Having someone meet the responding officers and let them know that the fight is over and the guy with the gun is a good guy can save your life.  Consider this in your preparation phase.

OK, so the police are there and you've made sure you're not going to be mistaken for a bad guy and shot.  Now what?

Remember, the police do not know you.  What they do know is that someone has been shot, and someone (you) did the shooting.  Expect to be ordered to the ground, very probably at gunpoint.  Expect to be handcuffed, very probably roughly.  Expect to be searched.

Do not resist.  Do not argue.  Comply immediately with all commands.  Remember that the officer does not yet know you are the good guy – and he or she wants to go home to the family at the end of the shift.  That means ensuring their safety by securing the potential threat.  You are that potential threat.

So now the police are in control of the scene.  You're out of the woods, right?  Wrong.  What you say and do in the following minutes and hours can be the difference between going home to your family and going to prison for a couple decades.

You've just been in a fight for your life.  You are flooded with adrenaline, you are emotionally compromised and you are in no condition to give a detailed accounting of what just happened.  Understand a couple of things here.  First, the police officer you talk to initially may very well believe that you did absolutely the right thing.  But they are not the end of the chain – what you say will be considered by the officer's supervisor, a detective or two, a prosecutor and maybe even a grand jury.  Second, you're not going to be thinking clearly and you're not going to have a clear recollection of everything tat just happened.

As an example, even trained police officers are unable to recall exactly how many shots they fired in a shooting.  Stress plays tricks on the memory.  But if you give a statement and say you fired two rounds when you actually fired 5, somewhere up the chain someone will look at it and think "did he forget, or is he lying?" 

One noted expert in the field of defensive shootings, recommends that you make a very concise initial statement to the police along the lines of:

"Officer, I was attacked by that man.  I was in fear for my life and I defended myself.  There is his weapon (if applicable), there are the witnesses (if applicable), and I will sign a complaint.  I will give you a full statement after speaking with my attorney.  I do not wish to answer any questions at this time without my attorney present." 

People can – and have – talked themselves into a jail cell after a completely justified self-defense shooting.  The things you say now, in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event, will be evaluated later by people who are not under stress and who may read something entirely different into your words.

Speaking of people, expect that you will be discussed in the media, savaged in the comment section of your local paper, shredded on internet discussion forums, etc. 

I hope this piece has provided some food for thought.  I don’t want to dissuade anyone from carrying a firearm for protection.  Having been a paramedic for almost 15 years, I have seen what criminals will do to other people to get what they want (or even just for amusement).  I believe in the right to protect oneself.  But I also believe that there are more than a few people out there carrying firearms who have not given all of these issues due consideration.  I hope this article leads to some self-discovery and honest self-evaluation for those who do choose to carry in church and elsewhere.

Be safe out there.

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