8 tips to consider before your church falls victim to gun violence

5:00 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017 Living
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Image
Guests attend a prayer service Tuesday at the La Vernia High School football stadium to grieve victims killed at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in La Vernia, Texas. Police say Devin Patrick Kelley shot and killed 26 people and wounded 20 others when he opened fire during a Sunday service at the church. SCOTT OLSON / GETTY IMAGES

Tuesday morning, two days after a gunman killed 26 people during a morning church service in Texas, the Rev. Bruce Cook awakened to find himself still shell-shocked like the rest of us.

Unlike the rest of us, Cook, who spent nearly three decades as a parole examiner and chaplain in local jails and state and federal correctional systems and another nine or 10 years counseling crime victims, was pretty sure you don’t stop this stuff by reacting to it.

“We gotta be thinking five days ahead to be prepared rather than surprised,” he said.

Cook, now head of congregational care at Vinings United Methodist Church, jumped from his bed, grabbed pen and paper, and started to write.

Hours later, he had come up with eight tips that law enforcement officials, churches and other institutions can implement to reduce the possibility of another mass shooting ever happening again.

I’ve listed them here:

1. Take away the infamy that suspects might feel they get from these incidents. Refer to them only as “the shooter” and avoid reporting extensive biographies. Only provide what law enforcement provides. The press coverage gives too much infamy to a killer by reporting 24/7 with a “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality. Report ONLY on the victims and their needs for information like how to access state resources of victims’ compensation, support groups, assistance with funeral expenses, etc. While we search for the why of every mass shooting, we can never know for certain all the little whys that made up the big why a person commits a horrific crime of murder.

2. Neighbors, police and family members should report any violence or threats of violence they witness in person, on social media sites, in email or, emails, during phone calls. This helps police to be more proactive than reactive.

3. Gaps in military court-martial information with criminal history reporting need to be closed so people with domestic violence military records will be disclosed in order to prohibit gun purchases. Commonsense gun law evaluations need to be made. This will not take away people’s Second Amendment right — just add an element of common sense.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Portrait of the Rev. Bruce Cook in front of a list of murder victims, at Vinings United Methodist Church. He recently offered eight tips to help churches and other organizations prevent acts of violence. AJC FILE PHOTO

4. “We have met the enemy and we are them,” by going to extremely violent movies, buying extremely violent video games, and reading extremely violent books. I am just as guilty as the next person. I am changing and will not support violent movies or media that glorify murder and murderers. I will glorify the heroes who respond and the resilience of the crime survivors.

5. Promote respect for human life and respect each other as persons no matter what the difference. Murderers seem to place their own ideology, mental delusions, personal benefit of revenge or jealousy and narcissism (their own self-interest) above the value of human life.

6. Target-harden religious institutions by asking off-duty police officers to attend services, either paid or on a voluntary basis, and conduct emergency drills in churches so members know what to do in case of a mass shooting. Install panic alarms in the pulpit and pastor’s offices and video cameras outside the church. Have 911 on speed dial. Have a plan and code word if the choir or pastor sees an armed intruder enter the religious institution. The plan should include who will do what next and how and where to hide or run safely, or how to fight (distract or hurt shooter by throwing objects, attempt to tackle, loud noises, etc).

7. Realize that each collective trauma layers on more grief and that everyone will need to debrief the event in their own way. Each person will undergo shock, numbness and confusion, denial, mad to sad feelings, and will be obsessed with details initially, which will give way to assimilating the entire horrific experience in such a way as one can finally handle it and cope with it. A good friend, family member, clergy or counselor is recommended to talk this over to best cope with the pain, anger and hurt feelings.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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8. Support a crime victims’ advocacy program with your volunteer time or funding. There are many in each state.

You can find more help at one of these sites: cjcc.georgia.gov or www.cvaconline.org.

If it somehow escaped you, the Texas shooting happened to be the second to occur at a place of worship on Sunday. The first one happened in Fresno, Calif., where a man killed his estranged wife and her new boyfriend as they sat in their car after attending a morning Mass.

The gunman went home and killed himself.

I first read about it two days later. When I talked to Cook on Wednesday, he still hadn’t heard the news.

Maybe Texas was all any of us could take in one day. Maybe these tips from Cook will help prevent another one.

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