JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) — About a year ago it became legal for Mississippi churches to designate members to provide armed security to their congregations.
The Church Protection Act or House Bill 786 allows these people to carry guns into a church and gives them legal protection.
One year later, WJTV takes a closer look at the rules and the risks of Protecting the Flock.
Bishop Ronnie Crudup leads New Horizon Church International. On any given Sunday 1,200 to 1,500 people go there to worship.
“I want people to have a wonderful experience when they come here. If we don’t ensure security that’s not going to happen,” said Bishop Crudup.
“Certainly, the thought of people being armed in the church, that weren’t already certified officers I, like a lot of people, was opposed to it,” he said.”But now I understand the days and time that we live in, and we have to make people feel secure. That is one of the top priorities that my congregants have, is feeling secure that their house of worship is secure.”
Since HB 786 went into effect, Dr. Clyde Morgan has been working with churches in the state to set up their security teams in strict accordance with the new law.
“What I tell people is, that in my truck or my car I have a spare tire and a jack,” Dr. Morgan said. “One of the last things I want to do is get out and change a tire, but I have those things in my vehicle because it might happen. That’s the reason for the motivation for carrying in the churches. It might happen.”
New Horizon has spent a lot of money on indoor and outdoor security cameras, lighting, locked gates around the administrative offices and more.
“So we have done everything possible within the law, to try and ensure that,” said Bishop Crudup. “To have both armed security, to have people who look like an officer and to also make sure there are people who no one can tell that they are carrying, if you will, concealed carry, to ensure our people are safe.”
New Horizon has a security team in place. Under the Church Protection Act, those team members must undergo firearms training to provide armed security and to be protected legally if they fire that gun during church services.
Dr. Morgan says church leaders need to pay close attention to the law.
“So I would encourage you, if you represent your churches to make sure that everyone on your team has completed, probably in the recent past, a course on the use and safety of firearms. And notice the bill says firearms, it does not say handguns,” he said. “So maybe the training they went through was with a 22 rifle. Just look at that very carefully in your own churches.”
While the law gives legal protection to those on a church security team, each must be a designated member.
“If they are not on the team they are not covered under that law,” Dr. Morgan said. “And the church has to have a list of everyone who’s on the team. A permanent list available for law enforcement if there is a shooting incident.
Just because someone carries in church and thinks she or he is covered, that’s not necessarily the case.”
“I’m a person who really believes in Faith,” Bishop Crudup said. “I believe that God takes care of us. But today I have to have Faith, and I have to ensure that we have good policies and procedures that deal with the security of our people.”