Church pastors resist urge to arm themselves or congregations

A fatal shooting at a Dayton church this past weekend is renewing a debate by local pastors and congregants about whether or not they should be armed while attending church.

Daniel G. Schooler, 68, is being held without bond by Dayton police after his brother, Rev. William B. Schooler, was shot multiple times and killed inside St. Peters Missionary Baptist Church. City detectives are planning to meet with the prosecutor’s office today to discuss charges, according to Dayton police.

Last year, Dylann Roof, the white 21-year-old charged in the killings of nine people at Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina, prayed with the congregation for more than an hour before screaming racial epithets at them and then opening fire.

Pastor Erwin McIntosh of the Payne AME Church in Hamilton was one of the first ministers locally to speak out against the Emanuel killings and discuss firearms safety in congregations.

“I don’t think we are ready for metal detectors or armed security guards, and we don’t want to profile people,” he previously told the Journal-News. “But we will do things like, in Sunday School for instance, we will have somebody sitting up front and somebody sitting in back behind the last church member. Just having a presence to be more aware. We don’t want to overreact and push people out; we don’t want to do that. We just want to be safe.”

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The recent slaying of Rev. Schooler hasn’t swayed McIntosh, nor has it swayed the Rev. Dr. Kim Katterheinrich from the Redeemer Church, Pastor John Lewis at The Presbyterian Church, Pastor Curtus Moak of the Hamilton Christian Center or Pastor Michael Bailey of the Faith United Church in Middletown, all of whom said Monday they aren’t ready to have weapons in their respective churches.

But, they said, safety is a high priority for everyone attending services or meetings at their respective churches.

“I am personally not comfortable as a pastor when it comes to pastors arming themselves,” Lewis said. “However, it is an individual’s choice. I do not carry a firearm, but again, it is an individual’s choice.”

Concerns for a congregation’s safety are understandable, said Patrick Oliver, who serves as director of the criminal justice program at Cedarville University.

“I think it is wise for churches now to pay attention to security issues,” Oliver said. “There are churches now that have armed security teams that are in plain clothes and providing protection.”

He added that preventative measures should be taken to provide security, and while that may not add up to arming pastors or their congregations, he said well trained security teams are a viable option.

Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office said it is a moot point for conceal and carry in a church no matter what the leadership of a congregation decides.

“Ohio’s concealed carry law does prohibit the concealed carry of a firearm in a church,” Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the AG’s Office, said. “Open carry is the term used to describe when a state does not regulate firearm carry in the open. Ohio law is silent as to rules for a firearm carried in the open. The law is silent on open carry period, only concealed is regulated.”

So the only way for congregants to legally have a weapon in church would be to openly carry firearms in their respective places of worship.

Dean Rieck, executive director of the Buckeye Firearms Association, which describes itself as an organization that’s dedicated to defending and advancing the right of citizens to own and use firearms for all legal activities, said it’s time for congregants and pastors to arm themselves.

“People should have the right to defend themselves whether they’re at church, at home, at the grocery store, or anywhere. It’s a choice everyone should have, including pastors,” Rieck said. “There are about half a million people in Ohio licensed to carry a concealed handgun and the overwhelming majority of these carry safely and responsibly. So the default ban of carry in churches in Ohio is irresponsible. Churchgoers in neighboring states, including Indiana, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania, don’t have this ban and there have not been any safety issues.”

He added, “Buckeye Firearms Association would like to see this ban lifted in Ohio so that people can carry if they choose, just as they do nearly everywhere else in Ohio.”

Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit said his department is offering an alternative that may help churches.

“Earlier this year we began hosting active threat classes,” he said. “We can take the training to churches and provide education and training on what to do in an active threat situation.”

Pastor Lewis of the Presbyterian Church has elected to explore the training.

“Our church has brought in the Hamilton Police Department and had them instruct the elders, deacons and staff on an active threat situation and how to best deal with that,” Lewis said. “We are fortunate to have several police officers as members of our church who attend our services. We also have a security plan in place and do the best we can to keep a watchful eye, as we are a downtown church with a great deal of people coming and going through our facilities.”

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