The weekend shootings at a Texas church are just the latest of several acts of gun violence in American places of worship in recent years. Some are raising the uncomfortable question: is it time for places of worship to consider stepping up their security? One local company offers training to institutions, including places of worship, to better prepare for the unthinkable.
Since 2006, numerous acts of gun violence have occurred within places of worship or faith-based facilities, from churches to a Sikh temple to Jewish community centers. This past weekend's mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas has some raising the question whether places of worship, considered "soft targets" for would-be attackers, should consider exploring tighter security measures, up to and possibly including armed security.
A Grand Island-based company, Defensor Incorporated, offers firearms and defensive tactical training. The company's Steve Felano told WBFO that they have received inquiries from places of worship.
But firearms in a sanctuary? That raises questions as to whether the thought of security and armed staff is appropriate for a place of worship.
"There are plenty of churches that we have worked with and places of worship across the denominations who have those concerns and don't want to go down that route and we certainly understand," Felano said. "It takes a certain mindset and a high level of training for us to be comfortable working with a place of worship to have armed staff."
But Defensor's training is not limited to weapons-related training. It also includes how to recognize warning signs, how to find places to exit or take cover and how to care for the wounded.
Following the 9/11 attacks, Americans were urged to go about their daily lives because if they were to live in fear, "then the terrorists have already won." The mindset of self-defense in the wake of mass shootings, Felano suggests, is not surrendering to fear but rather taking on the mindset of empowerment.
"It's kind of going back to the World War II days, stepping up and being responsible for your own safety and engaging in the civic programs that provide that training, that's coming back into vogue," he said. "As the civilian mindset shifts and more and more people take advantage of that training, we're going to save more lives down the road and hope that we prevent these types of events in advance, because people will recognize them and say something to law enforcement."
Felano added that better civilian training is essential when considering that police, although well-trained, still have finite resources available at a given moment.