State’s ‘gun-in-church’ law draws interest

| July 30, 2010

Capt. Kenny Sanders' phone hasn't stopped ringing since Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the "gun-in-church" bill into law July 6.

House Bill 1272, sponsored by Rep. Henry Burns, allows churches or other religious institutions to authorize people with concealed weapons permits and who have passed the required training to bring weapons into houses of worship as part of a security force.

"My phone has rung no less than 20 times a day with inquiries about what does the law actually mean, who can actually carry the weaponry, what type training is required for people to carry the gun," said Sanders, director of the Caddo Sheriff's Regional Law Enforcement Training Academy.

Sanders said many people are under the misconception that just having a concealed handgun permit allows them to carry a gun into a house of worship.

That's just the first step.

Once the permit is obtained, the person must be approved, authorized and announced to the church, plus participate in eight hours of initial tactical training and eight more hours annually.

The sheriff's office began offering security training for church employees about nine months ago, and Sanders estimates about 30 churches have taken advantage of the program so far.

Sanders said several congregations were afraid following instances across the nation where gunmen shot at pastors or came into churches and took their frustrations out on the congregation.

"Churches wanted some training on how to set up these security teams in churches, but, obviously, they could not arm them with pistols, so we developed this threat assessment program where I would come out and conduct a threat assessment based upon the different acts of violence in the United States," Sanders said. "Now, since the authoring of this law, they're asking me to come back and do some training on what can they do with carrying weaponry in church."

But receiving the eight hours of training from law enforcement is not mandated by the law. A church can set up its own training sessions and come up with its own prerehearsed plan of action in case of different emergencies.

J. Durell Tuberville, a pastor at Shreveport Community Church, said some of their members are going through the training.

"We're very proactive, primarily because there have been several shootings … in the past few years and pastors have been killed. The only way to stop deadly force is with deadly force."

Tuberville added, "We don't ever want to do that, but we want to be trained and prepared if it comes to that. To be able to defend our people is part of our obligation."

The Rev. Empris Mims has a different view.

"I said in March that I was not in favor of guns in the church and I also stated that if there was a need for such, then security guards could be outside the church," said Mims, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Shreveport's Allendale neighborhood. "But I have a problem with guns … even with trained police officers walking into a church with a gun. I feel there is a place for the judicial system and there's a place for the Lord."

Mims added, "I believe that the Lord's house ought to be a place where you can go and worship without being distracted by guns in the church. We're pushing for guns in the church, but we're outlawing the Ten Commandments in federal buildings."

Sanders said a significant portion of the training offered by the sheriff's office focuses on how to avoid the use of force.

"We do tactical training that involves a series of interventions that involves observations," Tuberville said. "It helps train us in what we are looking for in criminal behavior."

Another phase of the training, Tuberville said, is learning how to talk to people who are upset or unruly.

"We learn how to verbally defuse that type of situation and we do practice scenarios and learn how to physically confront," he said.

Sanders said there are four common areas in the threat assessment offered by the sheriff's office:

# Anything related to the pulpit: pastors, youth directors.

# The money trail: The route taken with money from the Sunday school and sanctuary offerings "where it goes after it's collected."

# Entry doors: How they are allowing people into the church all the way to the nursery.

"That was a major weak spot," Sanders said. "You've got people who's gone through a split up or divorce leaving babies in the nursery and the church doesn't know about it. The spouse that no longer lives at home knows the baby is in the nursery."

# The parking lot: "There's so much that goes on in the parking lot. … The person is going to walk out of church and they're waiting for them," Sanders said.

Sanders said a lot of churches want to do the training and then make the decision whether to add the part concerning guns. 

"I'll support their right to make that decision and if they're going to make that decision, then they should be trained," he said. "We shouldn't have untrained people carrying guns in church."

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Category: Church Security