With recent shootings across the nation, no one can be too sure when someone will threaten their way of life. But what kind of protection do citizens have as they attempt to continue with their everyday activities, especially in the one place everyone should feel safe - church?
“Living in small town USA doesn't mean that we are immune to violence such as the Sutherland Springs shootings,” said Jim Wells County Sheriff Daniel Bueno. “Our congregations need to know what they can do to protect themselves and their loved ones from such a tragedy.”
As a result from the tragic shootings, churches throughout the Coastal Bend in Corpus Christi, Alice and others have increased security.
Due to recent church shootings, Texas State Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving) submitted a bill to Legislature that allows churches to decide whether their members with a concealed handgun license can carry firearms into the establishment.
Rinaldi's bill became a state law and was put into effect September 2017, but not many people know about the new law. The law states that churches can now have armed volunteer security guards at their entrances to help protect parishioners.
The shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas prompted Attorney General Ken Paxton to write a letter to Dan Patrick, Lieutenant Governor of Texas, on whether handgun license holders may carry handguns on the premises of a church that does not post signs excluding handguns and whether churches are exempt from the private security fees charged to private institutions.
In Texas, unless a church posts signs that expressly forbids loaded guns inside their church, it is legal for someone with a concealed handgun license to carry them inside a church, said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in legal opinion KP-0176.
Paxton clarified that licensed handgun owners can take their weapons to and inside a church as long as the church allows them.
On November 5, 2017, a mass shooting occurred at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, about two and a half hours away from the Coastal Bend.
Less than two months after the Sutherland Springs shooting, churchgoers and city employees in San Diego, Texas were allegedly threatened by a 34-year-old California man, who had mental issues.
Wade Clayton Randolph, 34, allegedly told churchgoers at the Catholic church on the 400 block of South Victoria Street that he was going to kill them and set an example, San Diego police said.
Days after the incident, Duval County Sheriff Romeo Ramirez released a statement via Facebook.
"We should all be concerned, considering what has been going on around us throughout the nation and most recently in nearby Sutherland Spring, Texas. During this time we as a community should be alert of our surroundings, continue without any disruption with our lives and if they do find something suspicious or out of the ordinary, report it,” Sheriff Ramirez stated in his post.
Bueno along with the JWC District and County Attorney have been working together to coordinate a sit down with local churches to educate them about the new law.
Bueno wants to have what he calls a Local Clergy regarding Opinion KP-0176.
“We need to inform people about their options. What's available and What (Law Enforcement) recommends,” Bueno said. “In my opinion, people should definitely have signs posted, but everyone needs to make their own informed decision.”
Many churches in Texas conduct their services and activities on property leased from other private or governmental entities. Whether license holders may carry handguns on the premises of a church utilizing property of another entity may depend on the contractual arrangement between the church and the property owner or the legal limitations placed on the governmental entity owning the property.
Bueno said he plans on having a round table with local churches to discuss options regarding security and new laws dealing with handguns in churches.
“It use to be that we could just have a unit parked and that was enough to discourage criminal activity,” Bueno said. “But that isn't the case anymore.”