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Dangerous Times, Part 2: Churches begin to arm themselves
Karen House
Dec. 11, 2017, 11:07 a.m.

We live in dangerous times. Even churches and schools have become the targets of violent acts.  This second story in a 3-part series looks at how some churches are improving their security, to counter the threat of sudden acts of violence.

Churches are taking actions to prevent their people becoming the victims of violence.

Dec. 11, 2017 – When Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people at a prayer meeting in a Charleston, S.C., church a little over two years ago, it was a wake-up call for the leadership at Ewtonville Baptist Church in Dunlap.

We went to the police department and asked them what we could do,” the Rev. Brian Kearns said recently. “They did a seminar for us on security. We applied that. We put together a security team.”

A member at the church who had retired from the Marines was chosen to head up the security team, and he asked advice of his son, who has managed security for embassies. Coupled with what the local police advised, that information helped the church put together some safety protocols.

Additional church shootings in recent months have brought to light how vulnerable to violence churches can be:

Sept. 24, 2017, Emanuel Samson attacked congregants at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tenn., killing one and wounding seven.

Nov. 5, 2017, Devin Kelley went into First Baptist Church in rural Sutherland Springs, Tex., during the Sunday morning service and began shooting, killing 26 and injuring 20 more.

Dunlap Police Chief Clint Huth said he has been contacted by several local churches, asking him to make suggestions about how they can improve their security, and Sequatchie County Sheriff's Detective Jody Lockhart said the leaders of his church have met with church members working in law enforcement, to make sure their facilities do not pose a target for a violent attack.

We sat down at our church,” Det. Lockhart said recently, “and we talked about it. Our church has four or five police officers. I never thought we'd be talking about a place of worship as a place where you need security.”

Brian Kearns, pastor of Ewtonville Baptist Church, demonstrates
how a panic door can be locked during services, but will still open from the inside, in case of fire.

Some precautions local law enforcement advise for a church include:

  • Lock doors during a service, or funnel incoming foot traffic through one door.
  • Have members – preferably with law enforcement or military background – designated to patrol the parking lot and greet people coming in the door.
  • Use security cameras to monitor doors and parking areas for suspicious behavior.

And the churches are beginning to realize the value of having members armed with guns. The Rev. Kearns admitted that some of his congregation carry concealed firearms to church.

Greeters do double duty as security, giving them the opportunity to stop anyone acting suspiciously at the door.  After the service begins, even these doors will be locked.

But “shooting back” is a quandary for Christians. Some ask, “Didn't Jesus say to love your enemies and turn the other cheek?”

Others point out that even Jesus advocated self-defense, saying to His disciples just hours before His crucifixion, When I sent you without purse, and money, and shoes, lacked you anything? And they said, Nothing. Then said he to them, But now, he that has a purse, let him take it, and likewise his money: and he that has no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. (Luke 22:35, 36)

Different times call for different measures.

I think everybody should carry guns,” Det. Lockhart offered. “Everybody who legally can possess a gun should carry a gun. Anybody can stop a threat.”

There is so much going on in the world,” Det. Jason Harvey added, “you've pretty much got to carry a gun.”

Lockhart pointed out that there is a lot of human sex trafficking – kidnapping people to sell into slavery – going on in the United States right now. And Harvey pointed to the gang threat in Chattanooga, which is not that far from Dunlap.

A 2014 state law makes it legal to carry a loaded firearm in a private vehicle with no permit required, as long as the person is not barred from having a gun by a felony conviction or domestic violence.

I got a call from a citizen asking if it's legal to carry a pistol in church,” Chief Huth recalled. “There is no law that says you can't. I told them to talk to their pastor and make sure he's okay with it.

If you have a concealed carry permit and routinely carry a weapon with you, you need to train with that weapon,” Huth added. “You need to be proficient with it, know how to handle it safely, know when you can use it, when you can't use it. If it's a crowd situation, you don't want to just start shooting rounds off. Skills in handling firearms and being able to hit a target are perishable skills.”

In an active shooter situation, he pointed out, innocent victims will panic and may jump into the line of fire.

Safety is the main thing,” Det. Lockhart agreed.

People in our church carry guns,” the Rev. Kearns said. “But if they ever shot somebody in the congregation, they'd never get over that. It's not an easy thing.”

The Dunlap Police Department and the Sequatchie County Sheriff's Department are working on a church security seminar to present to any interested churches in the next few weeks.

In its proactive stance toward security, Ewtonville Baptist Church has installed “panic doors” that are locked during services, but can always be opened from the inside, in case of fire or other emergency. Some of the men of the church have been instructed what to do if they see a suspicious person – balancing cordiality with security.

Once a service starts, all doors are locked. Anyone arriving late has to be let in by the greeter at the door. And there are members that carry concealed firearms to church.

Hopefully, it makes people feel more secure,” the pastor said. “and if it is something we can stop in the parking lot, we'll stop it there.”

Next week:  Safety in the schools

Last Week's Feature
Dangerous times, Part 1: Learning to protect yourself
Karen House
Dec. 3, 2017, 8:04 p.m.

We live in dangerous times. It has become dangerous to ride a bike along an urban pedestrian mall, be a first-grader in a classroom, or even worship in a country church. Too many inexplicable acts of horrible violence have ripped the heart of America in recent years, each one worse than the last.

What can Americans do to protect themselves and their families? This is the first story in a 3-part series that looks at what the people of Sequatchie County can do to bring security and peace of mind to themselves, their families, their churches, and their schools.

Dec. 3, 2017 – “A child can not fight an adult,” the man was explaining. “So, what can a child do?”

Larry Scott is an instructor of Krav Maga at a martial arts school in East Ridge, Tenn. But Saturday, Dec. 2, he was in the Fellowship Hall of Dunlap United Methodist Church, giving tips on self-defense – first to a class of kids, and then to a class of teens and adults.

Adults practice a counter-attack when shoved up against a wall.

Krav Maga is an all-around style of self-defense developed for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) that combines techniques from boxing, wrestling, judo, and karate, with a splash of street-fighting, to create a practical method of self-defense that is easily taught to new recruits. It can be brutal in its efficiency.

But this day the Krav Maga teacher had his own “new recruits” – some just little guys, and some who knew nothing at all about fighting. It was the fifth annual “Throw Down For Warmth,” hosted by God's Warriors Karate in Dunlap. For a donated throw blanket, which goes to the needy and elderly at Christmas, a child or adult could learn something about self-preservation.

These days there are people who will snatch your kid and sell them into slavery,” Scott warned parents.

Sex-trafficking has become common in recent years, and often the perpetrators are a man-woman team, Scott pointed out. The woman, seen as more trustworthy by a child, will entice the child away from other people to a place where he or she can be snatched by the man.

He taught the children to be aware of danger, not to trust strangers...

What does a bad guy look like?” he asked the kids.

Like a normal person!” the children chorused.

Rushing back and forth, toward the line of children, Scott encouraged the kids to run away, practicing how they should act when an adult threatens them.

He also taught them that if running is not possible, to ball up their fists and hit as hard as they can while screaming as loudly as they can.

The adult class was longer and more in depth. Scott described the trauma he experienced as a child when men invaded his home, and all that stopped his family from being victims of violent crime was his mother – who confronted the men with a handgun and told them to get out of her house or she would kill them.

Scott went around the room, asking each person where they feel the most safe. Without exception, everyone he asked said they feel most safe at home.

You should look up how many home invasions happen in this country,” he said. “It's scary.” Motion sensors, locked doors, and dogs in the house are all good security for the home.

Instructor Larry Scott “chases” children in his self-defense class, so they can practice how to avoid a threatening stranger. Photos contributed.

Then the class moved into the practical applications phase, and participants got the chance to punch, slap, kick, and hit – and be on the receiving end, in turn – role-playing what to do when threatened or attacked. It was all practical. No fancy spinning kicks. In fact, the only kick Scott taught this class was a straight-up kick to the groin.

These were techniques used when a life is threatened: Holding hands up, as if in fear, and then striking hard with the palm or fist to the nose, or throwing a leg straight up as hard as possible between the attacker's legs.

Adults in the class preparing for an exercise on the floor.

Other tips Scott gave to his students included:

  • Be aware of your surroundings and what people around you are doing.
  • Keep your hands out of your pockets when near a stranger, so you can use your hands if attacked, and watch the stranger's hands, as they will sometimes give a clue as to what he is about to do.
  • Trust is earned, not given. Do not trust someone until they prove themselves trustworthy.
  • Control your temper. If you allow someone else to make you irrationally angry, you can get yourself in trouble. (Think “road rage.”) Don't let someone else control you by their words or actions.
  • If attacked, try to keep a piece of furniture, a car, or other large object between you and your attacker.
  • Resolve, when attacked, to “survive, no matter what.”
  • When using your cell phone or doing something else that requires your attention, do it in a safe place. If you are in your car, lock the door.
Cell phones, Scott pointed out, can be a blessing or a curse. He warned his students not to be distracted by a phone to the point that they lose their awareness of what people around them are doing, but if a crime occurs a cell phone can be used to snap pictures of the criminals or a car tag, giving valuable evidence to the police.

And while police should always be called when a crime occurs, it will usually take at least five minutes for officers to arrive, he said, “and until then, you're on your own.”

Next week: Churches begin to arm themselves.