Churches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report

Churches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report
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As public spaces and places of worship have become a target for mass shooters, some churches are preparing by arming and training their congregation, The Associated Press reported.

The Fellowship of the Parks church in Fort Worth, Texas, and its sister campuses, for example, have partnered with the local company Sheepdog Defense Group to train volunteers at the church to respond to shootings, members told the AP. 

In 1999, another church in the same city was subject to a mass shooting that left eight dead, including the shooter. And in 2017, a gunman opened fire at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 people. 

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Doug Walker, the founder of the interdenominational Fellowship of the Parks church, told the AP it wasn't one specific mass shooting that inspired the partnership with Sheepdog Defense Group, but that the trend made him recognize his security team needed better training.

Through the program, congregants reportedly learn a variety of skills to become volunteer security guards, including handling guns, threat assessment, first aid, tactical skills and other first response techniques in a mass shooting situation. 

“Ten years ago, this industry was not a thing,” David Riggall, a Texas police officer and founder of Sheepdog Defense Group, told the AP. “I mean, sanctuary means a safe place.”

Riggall became licensed to teach safety techniques after the 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and incorporates spiritual teachings into his training. 

In the Birmingham, Ala., area, David Youngstrom has set up a similar operation called Sheepdog Firearms. The organization's website says it offers an eight-hour church security course on "reload drills, concealment carry, weapon malfunction drills, shooting on the move drills, first aid and force-on-force drills in a response to an active shooter." 

Youngstrom told the AP that about 40 different churches have used his training program.

Other organizations have popped up in recent years to offer de-escalation training and shooter response training in churches, though not all of them offer training with a firearm. 

Gun control and gun violence have remained a national talking point, with the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, reigniting the debate. 

Lawmakers have argued that a universal background check bill currently stalled in the Senate should be passed when they return from their August break, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: California, 23 other states sue Trump over vehicle emissions rule | Climate strike protests hit cities across globe | Interior watchdog expands scope of FOIA investigation | Dems accuse officials of burying climate reports Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts Liberal super PAC launches browser extension replacing 'Mitch McConnell' with 'Moscow Mitch' MORE has signaled a willingness to consider some gun legislation this fall.