Church safety has become a huge issue across the United States. Many training programs and support operations have sprung up offering training and information for security teams. The development of armed church safety teams and the relatively new industry that has grown up to equip and train church teams is part of a massive move toward professional firearms training for gun owners that offers everything from rudimentary gun safety classes up to intensive tactical sessions for armed citizens which are also attended by SWAT teams.
In the Spokane area and North Idaho, we created Action Training Group, Inc. The ATG is an all-volunteer Idaho nonprofit corporation that has been hosting shoot-on-the-move Action Shooting events at the Fernan Gun Rod & Gun Club’s range near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. We are also hosting events at the Sharp Shooting Indoor Range in Spokane and the Spokane Valley Rifle & Pistol Club near Mica, Washington Live-fire Action Shooting and educational events provide a forum for armed citizens and members of church safety teams to exchange information and train together.
We held our first Action Shoot in Spring of 2016. Even before we got incorporated, we started drafting range rules that are loosely based on IDPA match procedure without the competition related provisions like scoring and other rules that apply to IDPA matches. The ATG events are noncompetitive and attract many shooters that might not otherwise have the opportunity to shoot-on-the-move.
Many of our initial Range Officers came from a competitive shooting background that still includes IDPA, USPSA and 3-gun RSOs. We introduced tactical rifle drills into the equation during the summer of 2016. We continue to focus on pistol drills and reality based training while continuing to recruit and train range officers recruited from our membership.
The initial concept for the group originated from my experience as the founding president of the Armed Defense Training Group in Federal Way. (See GunNews, Oct, 2016). The ADTA group in Federal Way came together very unexpectedly after the Federal Way Mirror published an article that I wrote in my regularly appearing Firearms Lawyer column calling for construction of a Shooting Arts Center. The City of Federal Way was contemplating an expensive Performing Arts Center.
I wanted to poke some fun at the usual City Hall claque by questioning their econometrics claiming a huge upsurge in tax revenue that were predicted to result from all the alleged force multipliers as people flocked to Federal Way and spent money on restaurants, hotel rooms and other necessities in order to attend concerts and other events. Federal Way built the Performing Arts Center. The City has also had several gun stores located within the City limits and a private Indoor Gun Range that has been very busy for many years! I still want to see the numbers and determine whose “economic multipliers” made the most sense!
When Rustin Rathbun and I first met to discuss an Inland Empire group that would be similar to the ADTA, Rustin brought up the idea of including church security. Rustin is a Chaplain with the Spokane Police Department and very much involved in church safety at his church in Spokane. Last year, we put on a series of church safety classes at our monthly ATG Membership Meetings and at Rustin’s church.
Our monthly Membership Meetings, usually held at Sportsman’s Warehouse or Cabela’s, are open to the public. We invite speakers to present subjects such as Use of Force, Reality Based Training and Church Safety. David Stevens, Richard Lee and Bob Smith, all of whom were on Gail Gerlach’s defense team in Gerlach’s Spokane self-defense shooting trial came to a recent meeting and discussed the trial with us.
Last January, we moved our Wintertime monthly Action Shoots indoors. Sharp Shooting Indoor Range provides the ATG use of its two shooting areas on Sunday evenings. We shoot USPSA cardboard targets, swingers and other moving targets, including targets suspended from the overhead cables.
We are reaching out to churches and other organizations on order to facilitate the exchange of information and create some partnerships. Some of the big Church Safety Teams have already gone far beyond what we have accomplished. We invite such teams to share some of what you have learned with smaller churches and armed citizens. The ATG offers cost-effective opportunities for regular training that can be designed around each safety team’s goals and objectives.
The ATG is strongly committed to facilitating exchange of information between churches, armed citizens and law enforcement. I personally spoke to most of the Washington State sheriffs last Spring at a meeting in the Yakima Emergency Operations Room. I called on the assembled sheriffs to consider joint training events which would give church safety teams and law enforcement opportunities to coordinate when law enforcement arrives at a mass shooting crime scene. Some churches in Spokane County have already participated in Active Shooter Protocols with law enforcement.
FIREARMS AND USE OF FORCE TRAINING. I explained to the Washington State Sheriff’s Association that training must be tailored to specific needs. In the case of Papow v Margate, the court held that law enforcement is subject to potential liability when training does not anticipate foreseeable situations. POPOW VS MARGATE, 476 F.Supp. 1237 (Dist. N.J. 1979) (Officer’s firearms training of going to a range twice a year; no training with respect to low light conditions, moving targets or firing in residential areas. Entirely foreseeable that an officer from the City of Margate, a largely residential area, would have to pursue a moving suspect at night under low-light conditions).
Thus, since it is now foreseeable that LEOs will encounter church safety teams when entering a scene where there is an active killer in a church, it is becoming critical for both law enforcement and church teams to coordinate by training together.
Just as LEOs must be trained in the specific situations that an officer will foreseeably encounter, armed church personnel, must train for many foreseeable situations that are inherently different than situations presented to traditional uniformed LEOs. These situations would include, for example, an encounter with a plain-clothes officer entering the scene pursuant to Active Shooter Protocols. See also YOUNG V. CITY OF PROVIDENCE, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1847 (R.I. 2004).
A few of the situations that need to be built into such scenarios are the following:
Situations that may be de-escalated by non-deadly force responses;
Response to emotionally disturbed persons;
Response to off-duty LEO encounters;
Response to suicide situations;
Decision making with respect to armed citizens with food intentions who are in possession of firearms and try to intervene;
Crowd scenarios and hostage situations where missed shots may endanger innocent persons; and
Fleeing attackers or other persons that turn with innocent objects in their hands that look like guns.
Why not create a program where all the churches that want to participate can do so? We should all call on our local law enforcement agencies to consider whether joint Reality Based Training is necessary to meet the current legal standards.
The ATG is not a group that takes political positions. Many of my ideas that appear above do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the ATG. Nevertheless, we see a need to bring law enforcement, armed citizens, church security teams and others together to exchange information and develop some new strategies for training together.
Our biggest hurdle was getting all our volunteers insured against liabilities that might be at live-fire events. We now have NRA insurance covering all our volunteers in case of accidents at the range. We are also busy recruiting officers, Board Members and volunteers. See more at www.actiontraininggroup.org.