Those murdered in the Sunday church massacre underscore the fact that churches are big soft targets, where it's easy for a determined bad guy to create some casualties. That there exists a need for armed security inside houses of worship is not a terribly controversial idea.
Agreeing that worship of almighty God shouldn’t require sacrifice of personal safety, the state governments of Alabama and Mississippi looked at legislation making it easier for churches to set up security forces. Going by names such as the Church Protection Act, such laws allow a church to elect members for increased training and for special legal privileges to open-carry. By establishing their own security forces, churches in those states can help their flock feel safe without having to carry guns in church themselves.
Alabama's legislature granted one very large church permission to set up its own police force. In Mississippi, a bill passed making this possible for many churches. “Churches,” said Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, “deserve protection from those who would harm worshippers.” With a holstered pistol on top of leather-bound Bible on his desk, the Republican signed the legislation into law.
And, of course, he was blasted as a rednecked idiot.
The group Everytown for Gun Safety said the governor made the state “less safe from gun violence” and Moms Demanding Action for Gun Sense condemned the governor for turning churches “into the wild West.” But since April of 2016, there haven’t been any gun accidents in Mississippi, and there haven’t been any church shootings, either.
Was the law effective? It's hard to say. But anyone who doubts it has to ignore what happened in Colorado in 2007.
About thirty minutes after the second service ended, a 24-year-old murderer opened fire in the sanctuary of the New Life Church. The gunman killed two worshipers with semi-auto .223 caliber Bushmaster X15 assault rifle before a former Minneapolis State Police officer, Jeanne Assam, pulled her pistol, took aim, and killed him.
Had this Texas congregation followed the example of their Colorado brethren, the death toll might be lower. And while Texas is already one of more than 20 open-carry states, a Church Protection Act would have lessened the likelihood of a massacre by destigmatizing the idea of pastors packing heat and encouraging their flock to take protection into their own hands.
More than ever, the Texas shooting now underscores the need for these laws. Next time there might not be a nearby hero willing to save the day. And after Dylann Roof slaughtered nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, it seems clear that houses of worship are increasingly being targeted.
No background check would’ve stopped the Texas gunman. He bought his weapon legally. And so barring a magic spell to seize and dispose of 350 million privately owned firearms in the U.S., the Second Amendment must be employed to defend the First Amendment right to worship. The states must take note and make sure those worshipping in churches, synagogues, and mosques have the tools they need to protect themselves.