WASHINGTON (RNS) For the first time, the federal government has issued written guidelines for houses of worship that are confronted with a homicidal gunman.

Vice President Joe Biden released the new rules on Tuesday (June 18), six months after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 dead, including 20 children.

Gun Churches

Pryor Creek Community Church is one of a few dozen churches around the country that are offering concealed carry certification classes as a way to reach out to non-Christians or to attract new members. RNS photo courtesy iStockPhoto.

This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Beyond seeking shelter and waiting for police to arrive, as many Newtown victims did, the new rules also advise adults in congregations to fight back — as a last resort — in a bid to stop the shooter. The new federal doctrine is “run, hide or fight.”

After Congress failed to pass a slew of gun safety measures in April, Biden said the executive branch is doing what it can, promising to put gun control legislation back in lawmakers’ hands, and pointing to 21 executive actions to beef up gun safety taken by the administration since Newtown.

He also unveiled three new federal guidebooks to keep institutions safe: one for schools, one for colleges and one for houses of worship.

Though shootings at churches and other houses of worship remain relatively rare, they can make inviting targets for shooters — particularly disturbed individuals — who are looking for a highly visible target to settle a grudge or make a political statement.

Last year a gunman killed six people inside a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis. In 2008, a gunman killed two congregants inside a Unitarian church in Knoxville, Tenn. In 2007, a gunman killed two people inside the New Life megachurch in Colorado Springs, Colo., before being shot and killed by an armed volunteer.

As federal officials worked with education officials in crafting new school safety rules, they also consulted clergy, Biden told a White House auditorium filled with federal officials who have worked on the issue.

“The faith leaders not only want us to talk about making schools safer,” Biden said. “They’re worried that their congregations are at risk. So they wanted to know, what should they be thinking about when someone stands up in the middle of the congregation and decides to do something similar as we saw in the schools.”

In response to their concerns, Biden said, “we gave concrete direction.”

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.

It also says that individuals must make their own decisions about how best to respond when confronted by an active shooter.

Though the booklet was unveiled at an event on gun violence, it focuses on emergency preparedness in general, whether for a shooter, an arsonist or a hurricane. A special section focuses on “active shooter situations.”


  1. “After Congress failed to pass a slew of gun safety measures in April, Biden said the executive branch is doing what it can, promising to put gun control legislation back in lawmakers’ hands, and pointing to 21 executive actions to beef up gun safety taken by the administration since Newtown.”

    They refuse to let the lawmakers decide whether to make or not make the laws, issue executive orders (not legislative orders or laws) and then have the gall to say they are promising to put the legislation back in lawmakers’ hands . . . What in the name of hypocrisy does that even mean? Oh wait . . . I forgot that was an interview with Biden . . . nevermind

  2. I agree – the Feds need to stay out of our lives. We used to be a people that could stand on our own two feet. Now we have to have the government fix all our woes for us. And, the more we ask them to fix, the more money they take from our pockets and the more they whittle away at our freedoms. They have their little spiney fingers into every aspect of our lives – we might as well invite Stalin to run our country!!!!

  3. If a gunman walks into my church and starts shooting, I would imagine one of the other congregants who is carrying a concealed weapon and has been trained to use that weapon will confront him/her and take him/her out minimising damage to anyone or anything.

  4. I stopped by at my doctor’s office this morning and there on a sign at the door was the following:

    “No weapons allowed in this facility.”

    The NRA missed an opportunity by not getting to the doctors to remove such an infringement on our Second Amendment rights.

    I say, here in 1866, now that the Civil War is over, that we should all have the right to carry guns on our hips to show we are men (women may not carry guns because that would be against God’s will for the feminine gender, not that they need protection from us men who can rape them any time we want and know that medically, their bodies have ways to reject our sperm so they don’t need to worry about getting pregnant…) and to protect our own (sense of worth? property? family? right to have “juice” to back up our lack of manhood?).

    If you were taking me seriously, you belong to the Flat World Society and not to the Christian Church, at least not the church I grew up in. There we learned that they who live by the sword die by the sword. I suppose that is more dramatic than dying of old age after years of civil and compassionate treatment of people, not always being afraid of them. Those who want their guns, let them keep ‘em. They are a waste of money. And by buying guns and ammo, they have been paying the multi-million dollar salary of the NRA president. And now those with the guns have to watch out for their own family and friends who will probably be the only ones to actually shoot those guns. And the nearest targets will be their own family and friends….

    Sorry about the ramble in and out of satire. This whole situation is silly to the extreme and tragic at the same time.

  5. Most folks are not aware of the fact that since 1999, over 433 people have died a violent death while on church or faith based property. That means that more people have died violent deaths while at church and faith based property than they have at schools in that same time period. And not all of them are by active shooters. 2 men (brothers) were stabbed to death working at a church pantry a few weeks ago in Huntsville,m Alabama. Churches had better be prepared… “Beware of men,” Jesus said, “…they will harm you in the house of worship…” (Matthew 10:17)

  6. I already know how to deal with an active shooter scumbag in church…Sig Sauer P226, which I carry religiously (excuse the pun). Fight is my first choice, because if I flee or hide, then I am condemning my congregation members to potential death (in other words being a coward to save my own tail), when instead I should use my God-given skills to neutralize the demon (which is what the active shooter is)…send’em straight to hell where they belong.

  7. This advice must be taken in the context of the physical layout of the church. About eight years ago we had an active shooter on the same intersection as our church and believing I was doing the most faithful thing I left my off duty handgun in the trunk of my car. (I am an active duty police officer). I don’t do that anymore; I carry it in worship and am always scanning the pews for potential problems. But the pews themselves are constructed of strong wooden material and would offer some resistance to pistol caliber weapons as well as fair concealment. A shooter would have to walk from row to row and pew to pew even if the people did nothing more than lie down in them, which makes quick shooting problematic. The law enforcement studies I have seen indicates that AGGRESSIVE reaction quickly takes the psychological advantage away from the shooter and he has to go through a response called the OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, act) which many times will result in confusion on his part; the human response is to retreat when this confusion occurs, because the shooter is usually not tactically trained to respond to aggressiveness, even if it throwing heavy objects at him and rushing him. Of course, not every church (particularly Methodist churches) has off-duty law enforcement officers attending services, so trained concealed weapons permit holders are the next best step. For liability purposes, I would say that it is best currently not to have paid armed security unless you are a very wealthy church which can afford hefty insurance premiums. Nor should it be currently be written into policy that firearms be either encouraged or forbidden—for legal liability reasons. A “safe” church should instead have a neutral policy which meets denominational requirements and where an unarmed safety group maintains minimally intrusive security standards, with the tacit understanding that someone who lawfully carries a (concealed) firearm with no unlawful intent is welcome to worship at the church. And pastors should just shut up about firearms ownership—today’s political sermon could be tomorrow’s enemy.

  1. [...] Beyond seeking shelter and waiting for police to arrive, as many Newtown victims did, the new rules also advise adults in congregations to fight back — as a last resort — in a bid to stop the shooter. The new federal doctrine is “run, hide, or fight.”…. Read this in full at http://www.religionnews.com/2013/06/18/feds-release-first-guidelines-for-confronting-a-church-shoote… [...]

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