The Rev. Brady Boyd believes there is no safer place to be Sunday morning than inside his church.
When Boyd takes to the pulpit at New Life Church, in Colorado Springs, Colo., he and the faithful are well protected. The 30-acre grounds are patrolled by uniformed police officers and an armed safety team made up of about 20 people, including Special Forces soldiers from one of four nearby military bases. One of Boyd's personal secuirty guards is a 24-year veteran Green Beret.
“It’s not like Soviet Russia,” he said. “But you plan for the worst, and pray for the best.”
" ... you plan for the worst, and pray for the best.”
New Life is one of a growing number of churches around the country that embrace armed security to protect the flock as they worship. A disturbing increase in shootings inside churches, including the shooting last Sunday of a pastor in Dayton, Ohio, and the tragic killing of nine last year at a South Carolina church has prompted extreme measures.
New Life was one of the first in the nation to embrace armed security, and it has already proven provident.
Boyd was in his office at the church following Sunday services Dec. 9, 2007, when a gunman killed two people outside and then entered the building armed with an assault rifle, two handguns and up to 1,000 rounds of ammunition.
The 24-year-old killer, Matthew Murray, was about 80 feet inside the building when his rampage was brought to an end by Jeanne Assam, an armed volunteer security guard.
“I saw him coming through the doors, and I took cover, and I waited for him to get closer,” Assam said afterward. “I came out of cover, I identified myself and engaged him and took him down.”
No one can say how many lives Assam saved, but there were several thousand people on the church's campus after Sunday's services. But Boyd estimated that over a hundred lives were saved.
“I love the people that I pastor," Boyd said ... “I want to protect them."
The argument about whether more guns in the hands of good guys make everyone safer is being played out in public schools, college campuses and workplaces around the country. Critics say a proliferation of firearms ultimately puts more people at risk, and say a house of worship is the last place for weaponry.
The Rev. Kristine Eggert, co-founder of God Before Guns, said there is no credible evidence to suggest that allowing guns inside churches would lead to a safer enviornment.
Concealed weapons have typically been banned inside churches, either by law or by church policy. But some states, including Arkansas, Louisiana and North Dakota have all passed laws explicitly allowing permit holders to carry concealed weapons in churches.
The Rev. John Elford, of University United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas, told KXAN.com it discourages guns in his pews.
“We feel the open carrying of weapons is part of a violent culture and we kind of want to push back against open carry and gun violence,” he said. “We welcome you to worship. We love the fact that you’re here, but please leave the gun in the car."
Church shootings have been a disturbing fact for decades, according to BuckeyeFirearms.org, which listed instances dating back to 1974. The most notorious shooting occurred last June, when a 21-year-old white supremacist named Dylann Storm Roof gunned down nine strangers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, S.C., after praying with them for more than an hour.
Last month, the FBI provided security training for 165 faith leaders at its Dallas headquarters.
"The key is to be proactive and plan for it ahead of time and train for it ahead of time, so in the unlikely event something does happen, you're ready and prepared to deal with that situation," John Smith, risk management director with the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, said.
Michael Lanford, co-owner of SC Firearms Training, provides firearm training and consulting for churches throughout South Carolina. He helps clients hiring outside security teams or to form their own.
Lanford, who has a background in the military and law enforcement, said taking down an active shooter in a church requires unique reactions, and that safety and training are critical.
“When you fire a bullet—from when it leaves your gun, to when it stops—you own that bullet,” he said. “These are split-second decisions.”
Boyd said worshipers may be especially vulnerable because their unarmed presence on Sundays is predictable. That's why domestic confrontations often unfold inside what should literally be a sanctuary.
That was the case in Sunday's shooting in Dayton, where the brother of the Rev. William B. Schooler, 70, fired a fatal shot inside the St. Peter’s Missionary Baptist Church while the choir was still singing.
But Eggert said the Dayton shooting is an example of how guns inside churches would do little to prevent a similar crime.
"It's the person who shoots first," she said. "If someone had a gun inside that church it would not have prevented that."