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The Journal Gazette

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Sunday, April 16, 2017 1:00 am

Churches turning to guns for protection

FRANK GRAY | The Journal Gazette

Early this month, Abundant Life Church on Coliseum Boulevard announced it would be offering three days of training for use of pistols for church protectors and for creating security measures.

The training would be pricey – $395 for all three days or $99 for just the third day.

I wouldn't say I was taken aback, but it seemed unusual for a church to offer training like this.

But it turns out it's not. The Missouri company that provides the training, Strategos International, does consulting work for schools, businesses and hospitals. In 1999, after several people were killed in a shooting at a Baptist church in Fort Worth, Texas, churches started asking about installing their own security measures, said Vaughn Baker, president of Strategos.

Now, after every major crime event, more churches have turned to Strategos for advice. The company has consulted with more than 1,000 churches.

Since 1999, there has been a 2,400 percent increase in violent acts in churches, Vaughn said.

It's a sad day when you have to take steps like this, especially in a church, said Dennis Larkin, executive pastor at Abundant Life. “It's just what's been happening in society as a whole. We see incidents happening more and more.”

Churches, which reach out to people with problems, become potential targets, Baker said.

Abundant Life has had its issues. A few years ago a man began threatening the church, Larkins said. Police became involved and the problem was dealt with.

After lengthy discussion, though, the church decided some formal training was a good idea.

Larkin said there are people who attend the church who have licenses to carry and might wear a gun to church.

“But you don't want a bunch of people pulling guns” if something happens, Larkin said. “You need to be in control if a situation arises.”

The focus, Larkin said, isn't about training people to shoot people.

The goal is to train people who have designated responsibilities who will be in control if something does happen.

Most important is to have trained greeters and trained ushers who are taught to spot anything suspicious.

“Be aware, like someone with a backpack,” Larkin said. “Be organized so an event won't happen.”

It's no different than having a plan in case there is a fire at the church or there's a tornado warning, Larkin said.

A couple of other ­churches have expressed interest in having some of their members take part in the training. But Larkin cautions, the individuals have to be stable and they have to be known. The training is for churches, not the general public, he said.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others' experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.