Church Shootings — No Sanctuary In The Sanctuary

Attending church in this day and age is like showing up at the Hotel California of which the Eagles sang–it could be heaven or it could be hell. While the heaven part of being in a church may be figurative, the hell part could be literal. Being caught in a hellish shooting is an all too real risk of participating in a worship service today. Guns may blaze before the preacher even gets to discussing hellfire and damnation. Yup, there’s no sanctuary in the sanctuary any more.

The word “sanctuary” has a couple of different meanings. The more familiar meaning is a sacred place. Church worship services are conducted in a location referred to as the sanctuary. Ironically, the second meaning is a place of refuge or safety. With the rise of violence in places of worship, sanctuaries can no longer be viewed as safe places.

In fact, the threat of violence at a church is so real, that some churches have taken to organizing security teams to protect their members while in a sacred but possibly not safe place. Moreover, a Texas law which took effect in September makes it legal for individuals to possess guns in houses of worship. Security teams and personal weapons are thus available to assist the Lord in delivering assembled congregants from evil.

Guns and the violence they represent seem inappropriate in a house of worship. Sadly, they were successfully called upon to save lives during church services at the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas on the morning of Sunday, December 29th. Congregants were taking communion unaware that bodies and blood would shortly be strewn about the sanctuary. One moment worshippers were peacefully assembled and looking to the Lord; second later shots rang out and they were ducking for cover or running for their lives. Hell lasted for six seconds before the threat was eliminated.

Unfortunately, sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. The shooter was confronted by members of the church’s security team. He was shot and died. Many go to church hoping to meet their Maker in the sense of connecting with Him, but this shooter was killed and figuratively sent to meet his Maker. Unfortunately, two church members, a 64 year old deacon and a 67 year old security team member, were killed. Their meeting with their Maker was likely more pleasant than the shooter’s.

A shotgun was wielded by the shooter, and the sanctuary was filled with congregants who normally numbered around 280. Had no action been taken by the volunteer security team, how many worshippers would have lost their lives or been injured? Violence is not the answer to everything, but it may be necessary to defend one’s life and that of others. Yes, violence is evil, but using a gun against the shooter in these circumstances was the lesser of the evils. Innocent lives were saved by having to snuff out the life of one hellbent on doing harm. Trying to reason with the shooter is a laughable option. Use of a weapon was the way to go under the circumstances.

And just who was this shooter? A terrorist? Nope. Keith Thomas Kunnunen was one of our own. The 43 year old man, according to the FBI, had an extensive criminal record. One of his ex-wives described him as “violent” and “crazy.” Well, I hope she was right about the crazy part; I’d hate to think that someone in his right mind would commit a violent crime in the middle of a church service. Another ex-wife indicated she’d obtained a protective order against him, describing the shooter as a religious fanatic who was paranoid and violent.

Although the shooter was transient, he had some ties to the area where the shooting occurred. The town was not one known for violence. It was a small suburb about 8 miles northwest of Fort Worth with a population of just over 16,000 per the 2010 census. West Freeway Church of Christ cared about members of its community. In fact, the church had given the shooter food on multiple occasions. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you–or perhaps more accurately, shooting the hand that feeds you.

Not only have citizens lost their sense of safety and security in a church building as a result of these shootings, but they are now forced to scrutinize others attending services with them. According to reports, the West Freeway Church of Christ security team already had its eye on the shooter before the incident. A woman in attendance at the service reported that she had never seen the man at church before, and his appearance made her very uncomfortable. He had on dark clothes, wore sunglasses, and sported a beard that looked fake as well as a wig. Worshippers will have to ask themselves whether the unknown person in the congregation is wearing a toupee just to cover his thinning hair or to avoid detection after an intended crime. The customary meet and greet might have to be extended from a mere handshake to a pat down of those seated near you.

Given this violent context, churches are going to have to take a long hard look at their procedures. Do they need to organize an armed voluntary security team? This type of volunteer work may appeal to some of the men who aren’t comfortable helping out in the nursery. (Sorry, I’ll take on a dirty diaper before an armed shooter any day.) Do churches need to be a bit more exclusive as to whom they open their doors? My church has the motto “Come As You Are.” Does this motto need to be modified to read “Come As You Are As Long As It Is Not Armed?”

The shooter’s motive, as of the writing of this post, is yet unknown. It appears that mental illness played some part in his actions. One of his ex-wives noted he was battling a demon. That makes sense. Wouldn’t the devil want to raise some hell during a church service? Had the shooter survived to face the judicial music, his defense could have been that the devil made him do it a la Flip Wilson’s Geraldine. But if a crazy person is going to wield a gun, don’t we want some trained, sane person to be available to take him on?

Sometimes we have to do things we don’t like such as take horrible tasting medicine or swallowing a horse pill to achieve a positive result. In this case, peaceful and innocent people deserve to be safe in a house of worship; threats to their safety may have to be eliminated. If having an armed security team in place is what it takes to make that happen, then we need to hold our noses and take that action. As the well known saying goes, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” You can take common sense steps to have protection in place in a sanctuary or simply allow worshippers to come as sheep to the slaughter.

Just WONDER-ing:

Do you feel safe when you are in attendance at a worship service in your local area? Does the existence of a church security team fly in the face of a sanctuary as a peaceful place of worship? If concealed carry is legally authorized, should worshippers be allowed to carry their gun as well as their Bible to church?

 

 

 

 

 

Taking A Shot At Understanding Mass Shootings

 

It’s been a bang-up time since July 28th, and I don’t mean that in a good way. In case you’ve been living under a rock (which might be a pretty safe place to be these days), three separate mass shootings occurred here in the U.S. in less than a week’s time. Let’s take a shot at understanding what’s up with all this violence.

As Americans, we like to believe our country is #1. And it is–it has more mass shootings than any other country. Shoot! That’s not a record of which to be proud.

Why is the U.S. at the top of the list for sites of mass shootings? A number of factors have been identified as contributing to this infamous ranking. First, there are more guns owned here, and these weapons are more accessible. In fact, the U.S. has the highest per-capita gun ownership in the world–a whopping 120.5 guns for every 100 people. This statistic makes sense. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. So where there are guns, there is bound to be gunfire.

Is the solution to clamp down and make sure illegal weapons aren’t available? Not really. A recent report from the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center found that 75% of shooters had legally purchased or were legally in possession of the firearms they used in a mass shooting in a public place. Since the Secret Service released this finding, I’m assuming the statistic isn’t secret.

Another proposed reason for the high incidence of these violent crimes in the U.S. is the shooters’ desire for fame. The media is all over these situations. While the shooter may be getting negative attention, i.e., people decry his actions, for some negative attention is better than no attention at all.

Dylan Klebold, a 17 year old shooter at Columbine High School in 1999 where 13 were killed, would clearly be Demonstrative Exhibit A for this desire for attention theory. He made a video prior to the shooting which expressed his thoughts about what he was going to do. He stated “directors will be  fighting over this story.” Sure, he may have had his 15 minutes of fame during the actual incident, but his actions live on in the media that reaches untold masses..

Hand in hand with the desire for attention theory is the copycat theory. According to this theory, publicity about one mass shooting sparks a desire in someone to do the same thing. Unfortunately, it is not a bright or legal idea which they copy. Mass shooters and lemmings apparently think along the same lines.

Some mass killings are a reaction to bullying or other mistreatment, real or perceived. Disgruntled employees, present or former, may target bosses and co-workers. Bullied students may target those who have bullied them or those who are accepted while they are not. Seems like shooters’ coping skills are far less refined than their shooting skills.

Regardless of why they do it, who are the people who are committing these mass shootings? Unfortunately, according to a former chief psychologist of the U.S. Secret Service, there is no useful profile of a mass shooter. About the only common factor among all such shooters is that they are men. The N.Y. Times reported that the vast majority of these perpetrators were white males acting alone. Would banning men from owning weapons and only allowing women to do so solve the mass shooting problem?

And what exactly is a “mass” shooting?  How many people does it take to make a “mass?” I’ll take a wild guess and say more than one. The FBI defines a mass killing as the killing of 3 or more people in a public place.

The most highly publicized mass shootings have resulted in the deaths of way more than 3 people. The El Paso and Dayton shootings this past weekend resulted in 22 and 9 people respectively losing their lives. Seventeen were killed in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018, and 26 were killed in the 2017 Sutherland Springs Church shooting. Fifty-eight perished in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, and 49 perished in the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. Twenty-seven died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. Is it just me or do you hear strains of “Living In The Wild, Wild West” playing in the background? No matter how many people are killed in these types of incidents, one life lost in this manner is one too many.

The AR-15 is widely known as the weapon of choice for the perpetrators of mass shootings. For example, it was used in this past weekend’s Dayton shooting, the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and the Las Vegas shooting. The National Rifle Association calls the AR-15 “America’s rifle.” The N.Y. Times describes the AR-15 as one of the “most beloved and most villified rifles in the U.S.” Translation? Shooters love it; victims and their families don’t.

To me, a gun is a gun. The only difference between two guns is their size and how loud they are. Those in the know about guns will tell you that the AR-15 is a lightweight, semi-automatic firearm. The weapon was developed by Armalite in 1959. The designation “AR” does NOT mean “assault rifle” as I would have guessed. It stands for Armalite, and 15 is the model number. Colt now holds rights to the name AR-15.

Both Australia and New Zealand have banned the AR-15 from use. New Zealand quickly enacted a ban on the AR-15 effective April 10th of this year following the Christchurch mosque shootings on March 15th in which this type of weapon was used. The shooter was quick on the draw, and the New Zealand politicians were quick on the ban.

The El Paso shooter did not use an AR-15. He wielded an AK style firearm. “AK” does not stand for “All Killed.” AK stands for Avtomat Kalashnikova or Automatic Kalashnikov. Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov was the designer. Aha! A Russian consipiracy!  When they aren’t busy interfering in elections, Russians are paving the way for mass shootings to occur in this country. The AK-47 is reportedly the most widely used shoulder weapon the the world today.

I am not a crime or gun expert, but I am a human being. I have decades of experience being one and interacting with others. Based on that experience, I believe that regardless of what laws are passed or what guns are banned, if someone is hell-bent on wreaking havoc, they will find a way to do so. It may not be with an AR-15, but it might be with a car. People have intentionally plowed into crowds resulting in death and destruction.

The cause behind these mass shootings is the person with his finger on the trigger. This person is someone who has himself experienced pain through bullying, mental illness, lack of acceptance, lack of attention, lack of self-esteem, etc. As President Trump noted this week, “mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.” Banning guns may be a quick fix, but the issues behind the hand itching to be on a trigger will remain and likely find a violent outlet through another medium. Let’s get to the root of the gunman’s problems and eradicate the underlying cause for the violence. We could at least give it a shot.

JUST WONDER-ing:

Do you think banning the weapons commonly used in mass shootings will preclude any future violence? What steps do you think could be taken to address the underlying issues leading a gunman to commit violence? Is our society becoming desensitized to violence as a result of frequent mass shootings?