ROCKINGHAM — Mass shootings have become a frequent occurrence in American society over recent years and, following a recent string of attacks at small-town churches, Richmond County’s faith community has been preparing for the worst by seeking the expertise of the county’s chief lawman.
Just like after the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting in July 2015, parishioners have again called on Sheriff James Clemmons to offer guidance on security measures in the months following the Nov. 5 shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas that claimed 26 lives. He urges them to be “proactive” in regard to security to make sure that, in the unlikely event of a shooting, the injuries are limited.
“I don’t want to think that we need guns to be safe in church,” said Pastor John Gould of First Missionary Baptist Church in Marston. “I want to share the word of God but I have a responsibility to keep people safe.”
Clemmons has discouraged having guns as the primary method of defense, opting instead for a series of measures that can deter anyone seeking to do harm. These measures include having ushers serve as guards rather than greeters, installing glass doors at the front of the church so that security can see people before they enter, naming people to call 911, ordering a lockdown, and administering first aid, and having a place to move the congregation where they will be safe.
North Carolina law allows churches to set their own rules in regard to bringing in guns, according to the News & Observer of Raleigh.
Gould invited Clemmons to speak to his congregation because he said, in looking at what’s going on in the world, “it looks like churches are being targeted.”
He said that in the month since Clemmons’ visit, his church has begun locking its doors during service, putting ushers on all the main doors, securing doors that don’t get used but could allow a potential shooter to enter secretly and purchasing glass doors for the main entrance.
Minister Dathan Bodie of the Church of Christ in Rockingham installed a camera on the back door over the holiday and has a designated security team that will soon begin holding regular drills to prepare the congregation in case of emergency. Church of Christ regularly records the full service in real time and now, at Clemmons’ suggestion, uses that to monitor suspicious activity. Church leaders have also asked that parishioners sit closer to the front of the sanctuary.
Bodie said having a security team in which each member knows his role in an emergency prevents “everyone doing the same thing all at once” and avoids a “chaos reaction.” He said that he brought Clemmons in out of fear of “copy cats” in response to the highly-visible November shooting.
“We know the possibility is remote but it’s happening out there and we want to bring awareness,” Bodie said.
“It’s changed everybody’s outlook,” Gould said, adding that members of his congregation initially thought that having more guns in church was the only way to ensure safety, but said “that’s not what (Clemmons’ training) is about.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]