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Armed Security: Good Idea or Bad?
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By Arthur Blinci
 
The aftermath of the tragic deaths of nine church members in Charleston, SC continues to raise the question, what level of security should we have in our churches? News media reports indicate more congregations are considering the use of armed security guards or to involve armed church members to provide security during church services. (See here and here) Pastors and church administrators are asking Adventist Risk Management (ARM) to address the question: What should a pastor do if they learn church leaders in the congregation are considering the use of armed volunteers to enhance church security? 

Adventist Risk Management understands this has been a question asked many times in recent months.  Our first counsel to pastors – Please Do Not Allow this to occur in your congregation.  ARM understands church members who ask this question only have the best interest and safety of their fellow believers in mind.  However, there are numerous risks and legal issues, which must be carefully evaluated before an informed decision can be made by the local church board and conference.
Let’s review seven issues that must be evaluated during the due diligence process:

  1. Any consideration of this issue must first be made in counsel with the local conference officers and the conference attorney to review the gun use laws of your jurisdiction.
  2. Has your conference established a policy that no firearms will be allowed on conference owned property?  Your church is private property and in many states, the property owner can establish their property as a weapons free zone.
  3. Does the individual who may be willing to provide armed security for the congregation have the proper license or concealed weapons permit and firearm liability insurance?  State laws vary as it relates to gun licensing and whether a concealed weapon permit grants permission to the owner to have a gun in a house of worship.
  4. What level of training in firearm use does the individual have and do they have law enforcement experience in the use of deadly force in a public assembly area?
  5. Is the armed security service provided by a licensed and bonded security company?
  6. If a pastor knowingly allows a church member to carry a weapon into the church for the purpose of providing armed security, this individual becomes an agent of the local church and conference through vicarious liability.  Thus the actions taken by this individual could hold the conference liable for negligence and civil damages.
  7. If your conference is insured through Adventist Risk Management’s general liability insurance policy, please be advised there is a Firearms Use Exclusion.  This means the use of a firearm by either an employee or volunteer in the course of their duties is not covered under this insurance policy.  In other words, the conference or the individual would be personally held liable for any legal actions or damages.
Does this mean armed security is forbidden at Adventist churches?  No, however following appropriate due diligence and obtaining local conference permission is essential before it is implemented at a local church.  If armed security is going to be used special insurance should be obtained for security officer professional liability coverage.  This policy is specifically underwritten and insured by the commercial insurance market.  ARM’s account executive can assist your conference to determine availability and pricing. This is not a decision that can be made without careful consideration of the risks and costs.
A pastor’s first consideration should always be to establish a security plan and practice emergency drills with the congregation. (See NAD Best Practices – July 7, 2015)  The U.S. Concealed Carry Association counsels congregations “to be proactive in the areas of awareness and to have several tested and practiced plans of action thought out prior to having to come up with one as an event (active shooter) unfolds.”[1]  Church security professionals indicate, “The key for security in churches is being prepared and trained for all emergency situations including an active shooter, natural disasters and medical emergencies.  Churches should establish a safety ministry to coordinate emergency management planning and assess risks.”[2]  Likewise, ARM encourages all congregations to have a local church safety officer.  To learn more on how to develop emergency plans for your church or how to provide training for your local safety officer, visit www.Adventistrisk.org.

Arthur Blinci is assistant to the president for Adventist Risk Management