Churches Mount Defenses Against Potential Mass Shooters

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A tiny white church in Gainesville, Ga., has new locks, peepholes, and brass plates. While parishioners pray, the sanctuary is bolted shut and a police officer is stationed outside. Surveillance cameras will be installed, and the 47-member congregation will participate in active-shooter training. It is the next chapter for the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was targeted in November, the New York Times reports. Police charged a 16-year-old white girl with planning a racially motivated knife attack to kill black worshipers, a plot similar to a 2015 massacre at a storied African-American church in Charleston, S.C. In Gainesville, a city of 40,000, Police Chief Jay Parrish urged church members to use low-tech force to protect themselves. They should hurl Bibles or hot coffee, chairs or fire extinguishers, anything, he said, that can be weaponized if they are under attack and cannot safely escape.

The Rev. Michelle Rizer-Pool, the pastor of Bethel, and religious leaders across the U.S. are fortifying their buildings and preparing for the possibility of mass shootings. Some have also turned to armed security and organized law enforcement patrols. Last week, a gunman opened fire during Sunday service at a Texas church, killing two parishioners before an armed member of the volunteer security team fatally shot him. Faith groups have responded to the growing threat of hate crimes and violence by offering specialized training and producing safety guides. The Council on American-Islamic Relations published a safety manual for religious institutions and began holding training sessions after a mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012. After a gunman stormed the small church in Sutherland Springs. Tx., in 2017, a Dallas-area megachurch organized an active-shooter training session, in which more than 600 church leaders from across the nation attended.

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