It’s better to have a plan, and not have to use it than to have nothing at all, said Galveston pastor Marc James on Monday night.
After a mass shooting earlier this month at a small church outside San Antonio, church leaders from around Galveston, police officials and dozens of residents gathered at Jerusalem Baptist Church on Monday to talk about how they can be prepared in case of a similar attack.
The meeting is a sad commentary on the state of things today, James said.
“The one place that most people would call safe is the house of God,” James, pastor of the church, said. “I believe that what we saw was that, even in worship, violence can still take place.”
It could have been any church, he said.
Police officials said the best thing churches can do to respond to a situation is to have a standard operating procedure in place, and to practice it.
Galveston Police Capt. David Millican told the group programs were available to assess the security in church buildings, and to train people — including pastors, ushers and choir members — to act as first responders in emergency situations. Being prepared to respond, rather than prevent violence altogether, is the most realistic approach, Millican said.
“The devil comes to church, too,” Millican said. “The bad thing about it is that it’s going to be a response. It takes a nanosecond for it to go bad.”
One such company even offers training on a “biblical basis,” Millican said.
There are other safety considerations to consider too, Galveston District Attorney Jack Roady said.
A new law passed during the 2017 Texas legislative session allows churches to create volunteer church security teams, members of which carry weapons in places of worship and conduct security actions, Roady said.
Individual churches can also decide whether to allow their congregants to carry weapons — openly or concealed.
“If you don’t say you are prohibiting it, then you are allowing it,” Roady said. “Those are hard decisions you have to make.”
The hard decisions come at a time when many churches around the country are confronting their vulnerabilities after the Sutherland Springs shooting.
Just nine days ago, Devin Kelley killed 25 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. One of the people was a pregnant woman. Another 11 people were injured.
It was the worst mass shooting in Texas history. Kelley, who bystanders wounded, killed himself shortly after the shooting. Investigators suspect he was targeting his former mother-in-law, who was a member of the church. She was not at the service, however.
Speakers on Monday night said that there’s no telling whether a mass shooting would happen in Galveston, but it’s always possible.
The definition of a mass shooting varies between sources, but it could be argued that Galveston has at least one in its history. In 1998, 19-year-old Keith Michael St. Aubin killed one person and injured four others when he fired into a crowd during the city’s Mardi Gras celebrations.
During his trial, St. Aubin’s lawyers argued that he suffered from paranoia and schizophrenia. He was sentenced to five life sentences.
Galveston police officials said they regularly provide guidance to churches and businesses that ask for help with planning for armed attacks. Since the Sutherland Springs shootings, at least one local church has sought guidance, officials said.
Husband and wife Anthony and Jeanette Mack, both members of the Jerusalem Baptist Church, attended Monday’s event — in the name of being prepared.
“We just want all the information we can have,” Anthony Mack said. “It’s heartbreaking to think that would happen in a church, but that’s the time we’re living in.
James said he planned to hold more conversations and community events, including some sort of show of support for the people of Sutherland Springs.
“We have to make sure we’re making an impact outside the building,” he said.