Churches consider tightening security, arming congregants, following Sutherland Springs massacre

A law enforcement officer guards the site of the shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. | Reuters/Jonathan Bachman

Churches across the U.S. are now considering tighter security measures, and even looking into arming parishioners, following the massacre at Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church in Texas.

Just hours after the mass shooting that has left at least 26 people dead on Sunday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton suggested in an interview with Fox News that churches should be "arming some of the parishioners" or hiring "professional security."

Paxton argued that if congregants are armed, "there's always the opportunity that the gunman will be taken out before he has the opportunity to kill very many people."

Some gun rights advocates have echoed Paxton's argument, citing the example of Jeanne Assam, who had intervened in a mass shooting at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs in December 2007 by firing back at the perpetrator.

The shooter, identified as Matthew Murray, was reportedly armed with an assault rifle, two pistols and more than a thousand rounds of ammunition. Two teenage sisters were killed and several others were wounded that day, but church pastor Brady Boyd believes that Murray could have easily killed 100 people at the church had Assam not been able to thwart the attack.

Boyd said that the memories of the attack came flooding back after he learned of the mass shooting at Sutherland Springs.

"We stopped and mourned and were so sad yesterday to hear the news. It was devastating to us. It brings back a lot of painful memories for us," he said, according to Religion News Service.

In a blog post on Monday, the pastor wrote, "The sad reality is that every church should have a strategy to protect its members when they gather."

Texas has recently implemented a law that would make it easier for churches to use armed congregants to provide security.

On Monday, Rev. Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, tweeted that his church is planning to host and train church leaders for security purposes.

Laura Cutilletta, the legal director of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, has noted that the state allows residents to carry a concealed weapon in churches, as long as the house of worship does not specifically forbid it.

Paxton acknowledged that many people might not be comfortable with the idea of having firearms in places of worship.

A 2012 PRRI survey has indicated that most Americans are not in favor of guns in churches, with 76 percent of respondents saying concealed weapons should not be allowed in houses of worship.

Some churches in Texas have responded to the state's open carry law by proactively banning guns in church, which the law permits individual houses of worship to do.

Proponents of providing armed security for churches have often contended that tightening America's gun control laws would not help prevent violence. In Texas, a citizen can legally sell firearms to another without performing a background check to confirm that the buyer is not prohibited from owning firearms.

"I wish some law would fix all of this," Paxton said on Fox News. "You can't necessarily keep guns out of the hands of people who are going to violate the law," he added.