A North Carolina pastor wants to arm parishioners and train them to act as security guards in the wake of the June massacre at African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
Melvin Clark, the reverend at Washington Missionary Baptist Church in Shelby, knows all too well that places of worship can be targets for attacks. He told NBC affiliate WCNC that he was held at gunpoint and taken hostage in his church by an assailant more than a decade ago.
More recently, nine members of a South Carolina church were gunned down during a Bible study in June, two churches in New Mexico were targeted by explosions in early August and two men were arrested in North Carolina last week after bringing a gun into a Charlotte church.
Clark said he doesn’t want his church members to feel they are defenseless in case violence breaks out during one of their services, so he has decided to arm ten members of the church, who will act as security guards.
"People will begin to take matters into their own hands because they believe there is no plan in place," Clark told WCNC.
He is going to meet with local law enforcement at the end of the summer to iron out how to get the selected "security guards" properly trained and licensed.
Shelby Police Department Chief Jeff Ledford said he plans to host Clark and other local pastors for a church safety seminar. “Being on the same page and allowing our pastors to ask questions and work with us will be a key factor in all this going as safe as possible,” he told NBC News.
“As far as arming people, I believe that people who are armed should be aware of the responsibility and liability associated with it,” Ledford said, adding that church leaders ultimately get to decide whether to arm members of their church.
“Training and communication with law enforcement should be a vital part,” Ledford said. Those who wish to become church security guards can be trained by police or through community college programs, he said.
Regardless of the methods they choose, Ledford said he thinks it’s “as important for religious institutions to have an active shooter plan as it is for schools and businesses.”
Currently, the Washington Missionary Baptist Church is outfitted with surveillance cameras and a system in which visitors must be buzzed in, but Clark hopes that his plan will make the church even more secure.