Packing and praying:
Why some Southwest Florida churches have armed security
February 10th 2020 – by Evan Dean
As acts of violence rattle church congregations
across the U.S., some churches in SWFL are making sure they’re armed and ready.
FORT MYERS, Fla. – For
tens of millions of people across the U.S., the church is a sacred place – a
place for comfort, redemption, and refuge.
A place where an act of
violence is seemingly unthinkable.
But shootings inside
churches have become all-too-common in recent years, rattling congregations
across the country.
The latest church shooting
to receive national attention happened in late December at the West Freeway
Church of Christ in North Texas.
A gunman killed two people
but was shot dead within seconds by Jack Wilson, the volunteer head of security
at the church.
Wilson, who owns a gun
range, was hailed a hero by local law enforcement.
“I don’t feel like I
killed a human. I killed an evil,” Wilson told NBC News after the shooting.
The violence in Texas –
and the rapid containment of the threat – has again raised a question that’s
been posed before: should churchgoers, specifically church security teams,
Generally, Florida law
does allow a licensed gun owner to carry a concealed firearm in a church.
Russell Howard, the lead
pastor at McGregor Baptist Church in Fort Myers, acknowledged the sad reality
that shootings in places of worship have become far too common.
“Inevitably, you wonder –
could this happen to me, or to a friend, or to a colleague, or to a church that
is closer to us?” Howard said in an interview with NBC2. “It is a fallen world.
It is a broken world.”
McGregor Baptist is one of
the biggest churches in southwest Florida, and Howard admits their approach to
security has changed in recent years.
“One of our initial ideas
was — let’s keep it completely discrete. For heaven’s sake, let’s not let
anyone notice that we have some very alert people. That is no longer our
position,” Howard explained.
While he wouldn’t share
all their safety measures, Howard said McGregor Baptist has a full-fledged
security team – including some members who are retired or off-duty police
He said the team checks
bags at the doors, has people monitoring crowds, and yes, some members do carry
“While politicians in
environments who, by the way, are protected by men with guns, debate how to
stop mass shootings… a gentleman in Texas stopped one in six seconds,” Howard
“The means to containment
of a violent, misbehaving person, is to de-escalate the situation. And if that
calls for the disciplined and effective use of counter-measured violence, as
regrettable as that is, inarguably — at least in the Texas case — and I say
this with gravity, my brother, not flippancy… it worked.”
McGregor Baptist has also
held active shooter training with law enforcement to keep the congregation
safe. Still, Pastor Howard maintained that all that training and security is
“This church is secure to
the degree the will of God deems it so. My absolute trust is in the will of
God,” Howard said. “I wouldn’t wish [a shooting] to happen. I very much hope it
doesn’t. But we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
NBC2 Investigators spoke
with leaders at several other churches in Southwest Florida, including one
pastor who said they hire an armed security team to monitor their services.
However, not every pastor
believes that guns belong in churches.
Several local leaders
declined to interview for the story. Some indicated that their security wasn’t
quite where they wanted it to be. Others didn’t feel comfortable divulging
their practices or openly discussing the topic.