A growing number of small and midsize places of worship are adopting security measures to gird against the rising threat of violent attacks, the Washington Post reports. While there is no definitive tracking of shootings or other attacks on houses of worship, several researchers and the federal government have documented a significant rise in targeted acts .
FBI data show a 35 percent increase in hate crimes at churches, synagogues, temples and mosques from 2014 to 2018. The nonprofit Faith Based Security Network found a 60 percent increase in “non-accidental deaths” at such sites from 2014 to 2017. Of the 88 people killed in mass shootings at places of worship since 1966 — defined as incidents in which four or more people were killed — more than half the deaths came in the last five years.
This spike has prompted several state legislatures to write or revise firearm laws to make it easier for people to carry guns in houses of worship. Since November 2017, lawmakers in 14 states have introduced 40 bills. Several are still being debated and six have been enacted, from Louisiana to North Dakota.
In the first weeks of 2020, legislators have introduced 13 bills allowing armed security in places of worship. The flurry of lawmaking began just days after a gunman killed two people in December at a church in White Settlement, Tx., before an armed volunteer shot and killed him. The volunteer’s action won praise for a state law that allows parishioners to carry firearms.
Experts say churches, synagogues and mosques, with their typically welcoming environments and looser safety measures, can make for easier targets, especially as businesses and schools ramp up security. More places of worship are turning to surveillance equipment and armed guards, especially volunteers from the congregation, who blend in and save the parish money, said Carl Chinn, president of the Faith Based Security Network.
One day after the November, 2017 shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs left 26 parishioners dead, there were calls by Texas Republicans to have more parishioners arm themselves at churches on Sundays, and responses by Democrats denouncing such moves.