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Will the year 2020 mark the moment in our nation's history when we dramatically pivot and truly harden so-called "soft targets"—places that are frequently the targets of deranged killers bent on delivering death?

Several recent events—and more importantly, subsequent actions taken by both citizens and law enforcement agencies alike—lead me to ponder the prospect of such a significant change in our society.

Earlier this week, we reported that Sheriff Rick Singleton had amended the policy of the Lauderdale County (AL) Sheriff's Office, now allowing deputies to drive to church in their squad cars.

Singleton pointed to a recent rash of active shooter incidents in houses of worship—notably the shooting at the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, TX, that left two parishioners dead.

The carnage could have been much worse had it not been for the fact that one churchgoer fatally shot the gunman just six seconds after he launched his attack.

Then we reported that Chief Ed Kraus of the Fort Worth (TX) Police Department had told his officers that officers should attend religious services in full uniform as a deterrent against violence in houses of worship.

Fort Worth PD said in a statement that the policy change comes "in the wake of the local attack on the West Freeway Church of Christ last Sunday, as well as the attacks on Jewish communities and church services nationally."

Then we reported on the fact that the class offered to citizens by the Clayton (NC) Police department on civilian response to an active shooter event filled up in just two hours.

The agency posted on Facebook, "This class filled up extremely quickly. This is the first time we've offered this class and based on feedback, we will be looking to offer an additional class in February, perhaps in a larger venue."


Related: Special Report: Preventing & Preparing for Workplace Attacks


Here are some thoughts on two ways to make it significantly harder for an armed assailant to commit mass murder in "soft targets."

For the purposes of this discussion—and because of the high number of religious institutions coming under attack in recent years—I'll focus on better protecting churches, synagogues, and mosques.

Armed Security

Step one is to post armed guards in as many houses of worship as possible. It's unreasonable to expect total coverage, but the mere fact that there MIGHT be a "good guy with a gun" inside might be sufficient deterrent to keep parishioners safe.

I know what you're going to say.

"Did Wyllie just suggest posting armed security in churches, synagogues, schools, and mosques? That's impossible! There isn't money to fund that."

I contend that if the call went out for it, countless capable volunteers would quickly spring from the woodwork—and most of them would be retired police officers, retired military, and well-trained citizens who regularly take advanced firearms classes.

Note that Jack Wilson—whose immediate response saved countless lives at the West Freeway Church of Christ—is a former reserve deputy sheriff and a firearms instructor. At his church, he is the head of an all-volunteer security force.

Note also that Jeanne Assam—a former police officer—was a volunteer security guard at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs when a 24-year-old gunman shot and killed two and wounded two others in December 2007.

Assam engaged the assailant, who then took his own life, ending the carnage.

I concede that not every jurisdiction is populated by a bunch of Jack Wilsons and Jeanne Assams—willing and able to defeat a deadly threat—and that some houses of worship might have to shell out cash for the service, but there are plenty of cities and towns in America where this would be a pretty easy fix.

Doing this one simple thing is certainly a whole lot better than doing nothing.

End "Gun-Free" Zones

At the state level, abolish the notion of "gun-free" zones.

With gun violence by disturbed gunmen usually occurring in "gun free zones" such as houses of worship, perhaps the possibility exists that those "safe spaces"—which are clearly not particularly safe—might begin to tolerate the bearing of arms.

The fact is, even in the 30-plus states that have "shall issue" gun laws—allowing concealed and open carry of firearms by law-abiding citizens and law enforcement officers alike—those legal guns largely remain prohibited in places like churches, synagogues, and mosques.

I know what you're going to say.

"Did Wyllie just suggest that legal gun owners be allowed to carry everywhere? That's impossible! The anti-gun segment of the population would never have it."

I contend that at least half of the states in this country could legislate "gun free zones" out of existence.

I concede that no such bill stands a snowball's chance in places like California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, or Massachusetts. But a law banning "gun free zones" would WIN IN A WALK in almost every state if you took out a map of the country and drew a triangle from Montana south to Arizona, then east to Georgia, then northwest back to Bozeman.

Further, I would wager a waist-high stack of green money that violent crime in those states would drop pretty rapidly over time.

In that time, the states that cling to the idea that a posted placard can prevent evil from raining down on parishioners—as they exercise their Constitutional rights of freedom of assembly and religion—might take notice.

Would-be attackers would most definitely take notice—and reconsider unleashing hell on innocents for fear that one of them might abruptly end the assault.

Doing this one simple thing is certainly a whole lot better than doing nothing.

Final Words

In addition to the recent attack on the church in Texas, there have been many other shootings at places of worship in recent years.

There was the synagogue shooting in California in December. There was the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pennsylvania in 2018, the Sutherland Springs church shooting in 2017, the mosque shooting in New York in 2016, and the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in South Carolina in 2015.

Sadly, there are too many to list.

The point is, what we've done up to now isn't working. What we've been doing is patently and obviously failing.

I regularly recite the adage that "an armed society is a polite society."

I say so because I firmly believe it to be true.

Consider that in Chicago—a city with a population of just over two million people and some of the most restrictive gun control laws in the country—there were 555 murders in 2019.

Contrast that with Houston—a city with a population of just over two million and some of the most permissive gun laws in the country—there were 210 murders in 2019.

I concede that some of the murders in those cities were committed with a weapon that wasn't a firearm, and that the cultures of those two cities couldn't be much more different—but this dramatic difference in the data cannot be ignored.

Another adage I routinely recite is, "When seconds count, police are just minutes away."

Jack Wilson ended that attack in Texas in six seconds.

Six seconds.

Placing well-trained armed security in houses of worship and allowing well-trained law-abiding citizens to carry concealed in formerly "gun free zones" would go a long way in reducing this plague of violence in churches, synagogues, and mosques.

Doing these two simple things is certainly a whole lot better than doing nothing.

Author

Doug Wyllie
Doug Wyllie

Web Editor

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

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Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

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