OUR VIEW: Staying safe should include fighting back

Staff Writer
Walton Sun
Walton Sun

Jack Wilson is a hero.

We haven’t seen or heard that sentiment expressed in very many mainstream media outlets, but it doesn’t make the observation any less true.

Wilson is a firearms instructor, the owner of a gun range owner and a former reserve deputy with his local sheriff’s office. He also worships at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas.

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That’s where he was Dec. 29 when a 43-year-old man — said to be upset that the church was assisting him with gifts of food but not money — opened fire on the congregation with a shotgun. He killed two members before Wilson, an armed member of the church’s volunteer security team, killed the gunman with a single pistol shot to the head from 50 feet.

The entire incident was horrible, but imagine the carnage if there were no Jack Wilson, or no church security team, or no law permitting people to protect themselves in a place of worship.

This is not a plea to allow everyone to openly strap on holsters each Sunday morning. Georgia’s current law is sufficient: A person is allowed to carry a gun into a house of worship — with the religious leader’s approval.

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This makes the law precisely what it should be — a deterrent. There are pastors who would never allow guns in their churches, and that’s a perfectly acceptable choice. There are other pastors who would permit guns as part of plans to keep congregations safe.

And that’s one of the law’s benefits: Potential attackers don’t know which churches are which. They choose at their peril.

If we were to ask all people permitted to carry a firearm into a house of worship, we’d guess virtually none of them would want to draw their weapons. Virtually none will have to.

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But as the recent Texas incident shows — after a troubling history of similar incidents nationwide — more churches are rightfully making the reasonable decision to quietly prepare their peaceful settings to better protect the people who gather there.

“Si vis pacem, para bellum.” From the Latin, it translates to: “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

That preparation doesn’t always exclusively involve guns, and it doesn’t have to. In church pews, tucked among the hymnals and the offertory envelopes, you’re likely these days to also find a map showing the fastest escape routes out of the building in the event of a violent attack. There also might be a list of emergency phone numbers.

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For several years, law enforcement officers throughout the Augusta area have conducted presentations for religious congregations to instruct them on how to better protect themselves while attending services. The requests from religious leaders for such presentations tend to rise in the wake of a mass shooting.

Last August, there was such a seminar for worshipers at Augusta’s Adas Yeshurun Synagogue. Though it had been planned weeks in advance, the seminar happened to have been held within 24 hours of two mass shootings.

“If something is going to happen here, we want to be ready for it,” Rabbi David Sirull said at the time. “If we have something that we can share that will help the community at large to be more safe, we’d like to put it out there for them.”

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Houses of worship can be especially vulnerable to crime by their very nature. Large amounts of collections and tithes are routinely collected there. Also, troubled people tend to approach religious organizations for help, and the term “troubled” can include mental illness. Authorities described the recent West Freeway shooter as precisely that type.

Is there a single solution to end all shootings targeting houses of worship? Of course not. Federal, state and local governments are still exploring ways to strengthen background checks or to better identify at-risk offenders or to better fund mental-health initiatives. There are many avenues to solutions that shouldn’t infringe on the rights of legal, responsible gun-owners.

But a crucial part of those solutions also lies with people such as Jack Wilson — a licensed, qualified, professionally trained individual who on Dec. 29 reacted precisely as needed to shield God-fearing people from harm.

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Innocent people must be allowed to protect themselves. Sometimes that also means fighting back.

This guest editorial was originally published by the Augusta Chronicle, a sister newspaper within Gannett.