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Churches need clear security plans

Profile image for Denton Record-Chronicle Editorial
Denton Record-Chronicle Editorial

The Sutherland Springs church shooting last month has prompted churches throughout Texas and the nation to create new security plans or, perhaps, revise their old ones.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released a legal opinion Thursday that says licensed handgun owners can legally carry loaded weapons into Texas churches that do not have posted signs banning weapons.

Perhaps you've noticed the signs that merchants must post if they don't want handguns carried into their stores. State law requires the signs to be of a certain size with plain block lettering of a specific size.

Paxton's opinion now makes it clear that churches must post those signs in clearly visible locations if they do not want people carrying firearms into the sanctuary or into other church buildings.

"If a church decides to exclude the concealed or open carrying of handguns on the premises of church property, it may provide the requisite notice, thereby making it an offense for a license holder to carry a handgun on those premises," Paxton wrote in his opinion. "However, churches may instead decide not to provide notice and to allow the carrying of handguns on their premises."

Paxton also made it clear that state law exempts churches from state fees private institutions must pay to form their own security forces.

The Legislature ended the fees because they imposed a significant financial burden on smaller churches, such as the one in Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed last month in a mass shooting during Sunday worship service.

Security experts who understand terrorism in all its forms refer to churches as "soft targets." Schools, shopping malls, hotels, sports stadiums and outdoor music venues also fall into that category.

We do not want to play the role of Chicken Little and proclaim the sky is falling, but churches and all other soft targets need a security plan that covers what actions to take during an "active shooter" event. And, just as with fire drills, the plan should be clearly written and regularly rehearsed.

It's not 1957 anymore. This is what life is like in the 21st century.