Mass shootings in the U.S. have always seemed removed from me. I’ve lived in Asia till two years ago and now live in a pretty peaceful, small American city. But an event I covered on Friday has made such incidents seem much closer.
The two-day seminar, held at a Baptist church in my neighboring city of Box Elder, was the first time church security training was offered in South Dakota’s Black Hills region, according to organizers. The program, developed by a Missouri-based security training/consulting firm, includes teaching participants how to identify suspicious people at church, lock down a facility and respond to intruders.
Interest in the training has reportedly increased since the Nov. 5 shooting at a rural Texas church, in which a military veteran gunned down 25 people, including a pregnant woman.
After I arrived at the seminar just past noon on Friday, the trainer began talking about how churches can put together a “security ministry.” This would be a heavily vetted team of congregants that would come up with the church’s security policy, including whether there should be armed members to engage active shooters.
The trainer, a Missouri pastor and vice-president at the security firm, said his organization offers a two-day intensive weapons training program for churches. At last month’s church shooting in Texas, he said, 400 rounds of ammunition were fired and not one from churchgoers.
“Be ready for a gun battle,” the pastor, Barry Young, said. “We gotta start fighting back. It is not a sin to protect ourselves. It is a sin to kill innocent people.”
He said armed congregants should be carrying at least two gun magazines. Using an imaginary pistol, he demonstrated how to properly execute a “tactical reload,” done in 1.6 seconds and without taking one’s eyes off the target.
Among his audience of about 80 people, including out-of-state residents, was a group from a Catholic parish in my city. Coming from a country where church events don’t usually cross denominations, I was surprised to see Catholic representatives at the seminar.
But I was more surprised when the parish administrator told me the parish was looking into organizing a security ministry at the cathedral and at its college chapel. Those were the two locations where I’ve most often attended mass. I especially liked the chapel because of its intimate, relaxed and serene atmosphere.
I came away from the coverage wondering if I should be more concerned about church shootings happening in my backyard. Or was the landmark local event indicative of a new type of fear?