PennLAGOs providing Church Security
On November 5, 2017, in Sutherland Spring Texas, tragedy struck when a lone gunman unloaded on an unsuspecting church in a small town in Texas where everyone knew everyone. It was a cowardly and ungodly act, for sure. A church in a very small town is perhaps the last place you would expect a mass shooting to occur, but it simply goes to show that bad guys don’t make appointments and you can never let your guard down, not for even one second. There are no safe spaces. Sadly, in this day and age sanctuary is not even possible even in church. It sure seems that everyday, there is another bad guy with a gun that just might have been stopped if there had been a good guy with a gun. And as of this post, it seems as if there were some hero neighbors to the church who engaged the coward and drove him off.
This leads to some very common questions that we get from members about church security.
- Can I carry a firearm in my church?
- What kinds of security options are available for my church?
- Do I need any special training to be a security guard at church?
So, let’s address each of these questions.
Can I carry a firearm in my church?
There is no law in Pennsylvania that prohibits you from carrying a firearm in church, unless your church also houses a school (any grades K-12) that is recognized by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Under Pennsylvania Law, firearms cannot be carried in any school facility. We understand and appreciate that some attorneys and some District Attorneys have suggested that it is fine to carry in a school if you have a LTCF. We still advise against it. You can read more information about carrying weapons in school in light of the recent decision in Commonwealth v. Goslin at https://www.pennlago.com/carrying-knife-weapon-pa-k-12-school-grounds-still-ill-advised/. So if your church is also a school (even if it is not in session when you attend church), carrying firearms along with other weapons are ill-advised.
In Pennsylvania all private property owners can establish policies that exclude or prohibit firearms on the premises. But these policies do not have the force of law. Churches are by definition, private property owners. Again, in Pennsylvania, these types of “no gun” policies do not carry the force of the law. That means that if you bring your firearm to church, even if their policy says “no guns,” you are not breaking the law. Keep in mind however, that if the church has such a policy and asks you to leave because you have a firearm, you must leave. If you refuse to leave, you could be charged with defiant trespass.
What kinds of security options are available for my church?
In light of recent events, and the current state of affairs in America, church security is a good idea. Whether your church chooses to hire a security team, hire a group of church members to provide security, or a group of members chose to volunteer as security, some type of security is paramount for the safety of all parishioners.
Do I need any special training to be a security guard at church?
The answer to this question depends on what type of security your church chooses to implement.
If you have a group of law abiding gun-owning members who choose to form a volunteer church security team, no special training or certification is required. Training and proficiency with your firearm is always a good idea. If you do choose to provide volunteer security, you should select a group of members who carry a firearm every day and have demonstrated proficiency with use of their firearms. The last person you want protecting you is someone who is not familiar with his or her firearm. Someone who does not carry every day may be uncomfortable with their gun and may hesitate when the moment is upon them to act. The group of volunteers should continue to train regularly and meet regularly to make sure a solid plan of action is in place if the unthinkable were to happen. The church would be wise to check with its insurance carrier and/or have these volunteers sign an agreement to indemnify the church should there be any use of force.
Hired Armed Security
If a group of church members is “hired” by the church to provide security while possessing a firearm, Act 235 training is required. The church would be wise to check with its insurance carrier and/or have these folks sign an agreement to indemnify the church should there be any use of force. There does not need to be any formal agreement or contract to make one “hired security” simply compensation for services rendered. This compensation can range from something as minimal as a reserved parking space to a monetary paycheck, and everything in between. If you receive any recompense for your work as a security guard at your church, this Act 235 training is required.
Act 235 training is a program offered by the Pennsylvania State Police for the training and licensing of private security such as watch guards, investigators, and/or protective patrolmen. The training is directed specifically to the tasks involved with carrying and using lethal weapons in the course of your employment. If you are hired by the church to provide security, you must obtain your Act 235 training.
The Act 235 training is a 40-hour training program. In order to be accepted into the program, you must first be approved following a psychological and physical exam by Pennsylvania licensed physicians. Upon receiving your letter of approval, you have 6 months to complete the training.
Nothing in Act 235 circumvents the requirement that you have a valid Pennsylvania License To Carry Firearms (LTCF) in order to carry concealed to and from the church or in your personal off-duty life. A valid LTCF is always required to transport a firearm in your vehicle to an from work, even if you are Act 235 certified and carrying that firearm for purposes of your employment.
The church can also hire security services from an outside source. If the church goes this route, make sure to check the credentials and certifications of the security officers that your church is looking to hire. They will be required, at a minimum, to have undergone Act 235 training. Again, the church should check with its insurance carrier and take other measures to mitigate its exposure to civil lawsuits in the event of use of force.
Even if your church hires special security, there is nothing that prohibits you from carrying your firearm with you if you, as a simple churchgoer, to provide added protection for yourself and others. However, be sure that you are not receiving any compensation and simply carrying for your own personal protection so as to avoid any sticky situation with the required training per Act 235.
The easiest was to go about providing church security is to gather a group of volunteers who are willing to donate their time to provide security in your church. By volunteering your time, you avoid the necessity of the Act 235 training. Even if you are a group of volunteers, you can certainly attend the training if you wish – added education is never a bad thing.