Jonathan Hoffman: Church security works best when locals take charge
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Jonathan Hoffman: Church security works best when locals take charge

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

One of the reasons that our country worked so well is that most problems were addressed at the community level by individuals and civic organizations. Community residents working together develop solutions tuned to the needs of their friends and neighbors.

Over time, the trend has been to turn to government for solutions, and not just local government but government at both the state and federal level. Sometimes government can help, particularly at the local level, but the United States Congress or the president are not intimately familiar with the needs of the cities and towns in “flyover country,” such as Tucson.

In this regard, it is interesting to compare and contrast armed attacks on schools to the increasingly prevalent armed attacks on churches, and the approach to solutions. Can anything be learned from this comparison?

School shootings, starting with the attack on Columbine High School in Colorado, were sensational national news. There were calls for more restrictive gun laws. Congress unsuccessfully promoted the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban — a law that was in effect for 10 years and allowed to sunset due to its lack of effect on crime. Interestingly, common-sense steps like controlling access to school campuses and increasing the presence of resource officers (police) were dismissed offhand.

One of the most horrific church shootings in recent history was the 2015 murder of seven people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The perpetrator sat through a Bible study with his victims before murdering them. There have been others since then, some with a greater number of victims. Congress has responded by seeking to widen the reporting of prohibited possessors to the NICS system of dealer background checks. The idea played well since one perpetrator was a prohibited possessor that failed to make the list, though it is not clear how this would directly protect churches.

It is hard to fault congressional legislators for proposing more laws having tangential effects at best when they are inundated with calls to “do something.”

They seek to pass another law and move on. That’s what they do.

Meanwhile, when you attend a church and you sit with your friends and neighbors, and their safety concerns you, and they are sitting with you thinking the same thing, that’s when communities come together and church security becomes serious business.

I had the opportunity to speak with Christopher Taylor of Arizona Church Security Network, LLC. The website includes the mission statement, “The Arizona Church Security Network serves the churches of Arizona by providing training resources, threat information, security news, and opportunities to network among church security teams.”

Taylor told me, “An analogy that fits it a little bit is that it is like a neighborhood watch for churches.” Neighbors helping neighbors.

I asked Taylor if their physical evaluations might result in the recommendations of barriers and cameras and such. He said all those things may be employed, adding, “Houses of worship, when we look at churches, synagogues and mosques, there’s a difference because we need to be welcoming. We don’t want it to look like a prison that people are coming to. So we have to be cautious and aware of that because security in a ministry setting is vastly different than security in a lot of other settings.”

The point is that directly protecting us is not the job of Congress. In fact, it is something of which Congress is not capable. The responsibility of church security falls upon the congregation. There it will work. With networking enhanced by today’s technology, their ability to react and adapt will give them advantages over any top-down edict. With liberty comes responsibility, and accepting responsibility is the essence of liberty.

Jonathan Hoffman has lived and worked in Tucson for 40 years. Write to him at tucsonsammy@gmail.com.

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