Churches turn to armed volunteers as gunmen threaten pastors, worshippers

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Security experts are increasingly urging U.S. churches to increase their safety measures after two near misses involving attempted shootings at houses of worship in different parts of the country this month. Interest in doing so among congregations is also on the rise, they say.

Last week, a Pennsylvania man jumped out of his seat at the front of a church and tackled an armed man who walked up to the pulpit and tried to gun down a pastor mid-sermon. A hero in the front row, Clarence McCallister, tackled and disarmed him. Then, on Saturday, a gun-toting teen walked up to a Louisiana church during a First Communion Mass for dozens of children. Parishioners detained him outside and called police.

In February, an armed woman barged into Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, with her 7-year-old in tow and opened fire. Off-duty officers on scene put an end to the assault, but her child was struck in the head in the crossfire.

Even the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommend churches and other places of worship take preparedness measures around the year.

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Measures include creating a plan and sharing it with congregants in case of an emergency, coordinating with local law enforcement and undergoing active shooter response training.

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FEMA offers a security self-assessment checklist on its website. The government also offers grants for nonprofit security to cover the costs of physical safety measures. Local governments throughout the country offer safety training programs for houses of worship.

But experts tell Fox News Digital churches are increasingly turning to security guards, whether armed or unarmed, and either volunteers or licensed professionals.

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From megachurches to tiny independent places of worship, interest in improving safety measures is up across the board, said David Katz, CEO of Global Security Group, a private firm founded by former federal agents, senior NYPD officers and FDNY leaders in the aftermath of 9/11. 

He said armed volunteer security at houses of worship is not a new idea, especially in Jewish synagogues, but the demand is increasing as more and more sites explore their options.

Katz, a former special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), began training volunteers at his own Texas synagogue amid fears of violence following the invasion of Israel by Hamas terrorists and antisemitic attacks in the U.S. Now, he says, he’s working with churches, too.

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A churchgoer holds the gunman's arms back

“Most synagogues and churches simply don’t have the budget to hire full-time armed security,” he said. So even though his firm provides it, he’s also offering training so that worshippers can protect themselves.

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Harris County Sheriffs officers outside of Lakewood Church

Many are dedicated to the task and have a lot on the line if a lone wolf attacks.

“I’ve had people tell me, ‘I’ve been anti-gun my whole life, and I just bought my first gun. It’s time to change the way I vote, and it’s time to change my thoughts about self-protection,'” he said. “They’re buying guns without training, so we’re going to fill the gap.”

But only some states, including Texas, allow churches to form their own security teams of parishioners, he said.

“You could never get away with that in New York City,” he said.

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From left, Police Chief Troy Finner, Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen, Mayor John Whitmire and Fire Department Chief Samuel Pena,

Pat Brosnan, founder and chairman of Brosnan Risk Consultants, which provides threat assessments and armed and unarmed guards, says widely varying laws in communities around the country influence what measures churches and other houses of worship can implement.

The security industry faces stringent regulations, training requirements, high insurance costs and other barriers that can complicate an all-volunteer security team, he said.

But just the visual of a guard “standing tall” at the front door in itself makes a difference, Brosnan told Fox News Digital.

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“Most of these guys are cowards – it’s important to recognize that,” he said. “They may talk about meeting their maker and all these other things that they presuppose is gonna occur when they die, if they die at the hands of the police or anyone else. But most of them are cowards. They don’t wanna die. That’s why deterrence, in my view, works more often than not.”

In cases where the cost is prohibitive, he said, some churches choose to have guards posted during service hours and special events only.

“It’s somewhat rare, but I’ve seen a little bit more now … where individuals at a church basically gang up and disarm a guy. We saw that at the Super Bowl parade, and we’ve seen it many times,” he said. “It’s very dangerous, but sometimes necessary. I always urge caution without training, but the reality is sometimes there’s no option left.”

He also praised the actions of the good Samaritans like McCallister and the parents outside the Louisiana church who saved lives in a series of recent incidents – while urging caution.

“We salute those guys,” Brosnan said. “When civilians act in a brave way to save lives, it’s outstanding.”

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