The federal government has issued written guidelines for houses of worship that are confronted with a homicidal gunman.
The recommendations, which are included in a new booklet talking about emergency preparedness and response for congregations, boil down to this: run, hide, fight.
That’s right. For the first time, the guidelines suggest that once as many people have fled or are hiding, that people consider fighting back as a last resort. The document was released on Tuesday, June 18, six months after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 dead, including 20 children.
The guidelines’ basic run-hide-fight advice is similar to that given to schools faced with active shooters: Congregants should first try to flee the scene, taking people with them but not waiting for those who refuse to leave. If flight is not possible, hide – the guidelines describe some of the best hiding places. Fighting back is a last resort.
According to the new rules, gathered in a 38-page document called “Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Houses of Worship,” fighting back is advised for “adults in immediate danger,” who should:
“Consider trying to disrupt or incapacitate the shooter by using aggressive force and items in their environment, such as fire extinguishers or chairs. In a study of 41 active shooter events that ended before law enforcement arrived, the potential victims stopped the attacker themselves in 16 instances. In 13 of those cases, they physically subdued the attacker.”
The question of how best to subdue a gunman is likely to rekindle a debate within many churches, particularly in parts of the country where it is common to carry weapons: Should congregants bring guns to church?
“Each house of worship should determine, as part of its planning process, policies on the control and presence of weapons, as permitted by law,” the guidelines say.