Church shootings prompt SO security training


The Simpson County Sheriff’s Office recently hosted a detailed presentation on how to establish a church security program.

A large number of church shootings within recent years, including such high profile cases  as the Charleston Church Shooting involving white supremacist Dylan Roof, prompted the meeting in Mendenhall.

 The most recent shooting occurred at a Texas Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where gunman Devin Patrick Kelley killed 26 people before being pursued by armed citizens and ultimately killed.

These incidents among others sparked Mississippi legislators to investigate the laws protecting churches from such attacks.

Representative Andy Gipson, who is also a pastor, said, “In 2016 we had a number of church shootings which got my wheels to turning. The Good Lord expects us to use common sense, and the law was silent about church security.”

Gipson explained that before 2016 the law was contradictory in places that concerned concealed carry inside churches. This led to the creation of House Bill 786 Church Protection Act. Gipson described HB 786 as a basic legal framework that allows churches to establish security teams. It gives the governing body of any church or place of worship the right to establish a security program by which designated members are authorized to carry firearms for the protection of the congregation. The designation does not have to be made public, but the church must designate said members in writing.

 The bill grants immunity to the church and members of the security team of civil liability for any action taken during the performance of their official duties. In order to be eligible for this immunity each participant must have a firearms permit and have completed an instructional course in the safe handling and use of firearms. This qualifies members of a church’s security team for protection under the castle doctrine. According to MS Code 97-3-15 the killing of a human being is justified when necessarily committed in the performance of duty as a member of a church security program. HB 786 went into effect on July 1 of 2016.

 Gipson said, “After House Bill 786 went into effect I got a lot criticism, phone calls, and hate mail.” He explained that many of critics were from more populated areas such as New York and California.  He said, “Since the Texas shooting I’ve received different calls, from churches now taking this issue seriously.”

Commander Clay McPherson and a panel comprised of Sheriff Donald O’Cain, Judge Eugene Knight, and Representative Andy Gipson fielded questions at the meeting. O’Cain said, “I hope this program will be real beneficial for safety. Anybody bad enough to come to a church and wipe people out, I don’t have any sympathy for them.” He said that it was important for everyone to be prepared.

McPherson assured attendees that “God is ok with church goers protecting themselves.” During the presentation a member of the crowd stood up and began yelling and causing a scene. Unbeknownst to the audience the “trouble maker” was actually a deputy in disguise. A security team comprised of deputies dressed in plain clothes quickly responded and escorted him out. This scenario was played out on two separate occasions. McPherson said that these demonstrations were done to show the functionality of a security team.

McPherson referenced the Bible and spoke about watchmen. He encouraged every church to establish a trained security team.

McPherson said the three types of potential threats are the mentally ill, substance abusers, and the “wolves that come to maim and destroy.” He presented options to help mitigate these potential threats which included limiting entry points, installing panic and push bars, having trained meet- and-greet teams, and installing metal detectors.

McPherson also spoke on the possibilities of an insider threat. He shared a story involving a church youth pastor who was actually a convicted child molester. He encouraged pastors to do background checks on volunteers and church staff.

He said that some churches feel that they don’t have the man power to establish security teams and encouraged them to use women. Three female deputies dressed in church attire demonstrated options for females to carry and conceal firearms while in church. McPherson called them “pistol packing mamas.”

McPherson said, “We are not the experts on this. These are suggestions, but the most important thing is to establish a plan and stick to it.”

Gipson said, “A church security team can be as complex or simple as the church deems it to be.”

Judge Eugene Knight provided the crowd with information on concealed carry and enhanced concealed carry permits. Knight is an enhanced concealed carry instructor. He said, “Guns are not dangerous. The danger comes in having guns and not knowing how to use them.”

Questions later covered topics such as insurance and liability in the case that a security team member did shoot and kill someone; the benefits of having the enhanced conceal carry permit, and how to properly document the members of the security team.

Many of the citizens who attended the presentation took a strong stance in favor of establishing a church security teams.

McPherson said, “There is going to some flak from this, but the pastor is charged by God Almighty to protect his sheep. I’m not saying you have to carry a gun but you need a plan in place.”

McPherson shared that since the training has taken place a minor incident has already occurred. It involved a man who walked into a church, but was not supposed to be there. McPherson said that the man appeared to be mentally ill or a substance abuser. He explained that the man went into the church and they realized something was wrong with him. The head of the security team then approached him with other members and escorted him out. McPherson said that there continues to be a lot of interest in the subject and the department has received phone calls almost daily concerning security. teams.