Guns in church? Now there’s a PR problem!

Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition!

newlife.jpgMatthew Murray’s attack on members of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs last Sunday ended when an “armed volunteer” drew her weapon and shot him multiple times. Police say Murray died by his own hand, but it doesn’t change the fact the Jeanne Assam and others came to church carrying concealed weapons, and they did so with the blessing of church elders.

An armed congregation is now part of the emergency management plan in a good many places of worship. That’s what I learned from today’s Denver Post and this story titled, “Weapons in Church? For everything there is a time.” It was unsettling news to me, but I’m sure it was comforting to the dozens of New Life church members who are alive today thanks to Ms. Assam’s quick reactions and steady aim.

“It’s a sad necessity,” says Gary Schneeberger of Focus on the Family, another church in Colorado Springs. “This is the world we live in. Our organizations would be irresponsible if we weren’t prepared.”

Doug Olsen of the Woodman Valley Chapel is quoted in the Post story as well:

“At schools you can lock strangers out and tell the kids to watch out for strangers. A church should open its doors to everybody, according to the Bible. We want strangers. We want people who are in trouble.”

9mm.jpgThe specter of violent acts at school, at work, and now at church scares us all. I want to propose solutions, as that’s what PR people do. But I have none.

With each report of another violent act, my crisis manager instincts kick in. How would I handle it? What would I say to the families affected? To the community? To the press? Textbooks on crisis management tell us how to direct the aftermath. It’s really not that hard. The books don’t tell us how to anticipate or prevent the attacks, short of erecting wire fences and guard towers.

Is there a way to make our schools and churches safer? There sure is. Visit any airport to see how it’s done. But you’ll learn that minimizing risk also involves maximizing inconvenience and making yourself highly inaccessible. It’s effective, but bad for business. Ask any airline.

Metal detectors have been standard in some high schools for a long time. So have armed police officers and dope-sniffing dogs. Can militiamen at Macy’s be far off?

When tighter security measures come, and they will, how will our clients implement them without alienating customers and driving off business? How will it change the relationship with key stakeholders? And will it drive even more business away from bricks-and-mortar outlets to online venues?

Depressing? Yeah, it sure is. But doomsday scenarios are now part of the crisis-planning discussions in our offices AND in our classrooms. We brainstormed the topic just days after Virginia Tech last spring, and students were ready to approve my carrying a taser to class. (I was holding out for a .45 automatic.)

That discussion sure made me long for a PR class I took in 1974 in which our biggest challenge was pitching a story about purple martin houses to the editor of the Sunday Roto. (And you thought the 70s were tumultuous!)

I don’t expect you have a solution to propose. If you do, feel free, but I’d just as soon skip the gun-control rants if you don’t mind. While you’re at it, send me a flack jacket for Christmas. It’s the perfect gift for your old PR warrior.

8 Responses to Guns in church? Now there’s a PR problem!

  1. abster says:

    I agree with you Bill. I think the online world is becoming the safest place these days. When you worry about getting shot while sitting at church or shopping for Christmas presents, there is a serious problem. I know personally I have started doing almost all my shopping online. And, many churches are offering online video feeds of the services. Times are changin’ that’s for sure. But I for one will still go to church on Sunday and pray that I will make it up above when it is my time! ( I am sitting in church after all)

    By the way, saw you made the newest Friendly Ghost PR blog rankings again…. congrats!

  2. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks, Abby. I do most of my shopping on line, too, out of convenience. I don’t worry one bit about getting shot while I’m out and about. You know me, I’ll just shoot back. But I do worry that escalating violence will drive people away from important public gathering places and back to the suburban or exurban cocoons where they chat online and watch YouTube. That’s not healthy for individuals or for society.

    As for the Friendly Ghost rankings, I saw that. While it’s nice to be recognized, I don’t place much stock in any of the lists, and I’m sure not gonna boast about landing on one. Reason number one is that I’m on so damn few of those lists. Reason number two is that it’s my fault I don’t have the numbers. The rankings are very easy to manipulate if you play the links game. I decided from day one that wasn’t my mission with the blog — a nice way of saying I really don’t give a s—.

    I don’t write posts as “link bait,” and I don’t spend a lot of time cruising the blogosphere to schmooze the influencers. I keep the feeder pretty lean, as my real job kinda cuts into my blogging time. That may not be smart marketing, but at least I’m transparent about it. And that’s good public relations.

  3. Dave O'Brien says:

    I remember from my youth in New Jersey sitting in Christmas Eve services with an armed, uniformed, on-duty police officer in the back row. He was there mostly just to worship on a night where he was on shift and didn’t stay the whole service. But he did put the fear of God into us kids, who liked to goof off during services at times. My father, the pastor, would have chewed me out anyway, but a cop is a good enough deterrent for me.

    This is also rural New Jersey in a church located in the middle of a cornfield (Yes, we had cornfields in New Jersey. And cows!) But these days, when no campus or school building is immune from intruders or shootings, I understand how some of these mega-churches can’t be too careful. Plus, the first shooting occurred earlier in the day and from what I’ve read, the church where the shooter died called in their security officers just to be safe.

  4. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Dave. And yes, I have been to rural Jersey, cutting cross country from Wilmington, Del. to Cape May many times. Nothing quite like the Jersey shore in the 1960s. But I digress.

    It’s a helluva note when we’re somehow comforted by knowing that others in the church pew are packing heat. Kinda redefines civilization, and it’s the sort of unsettling change that PR people must deal with daily, as each change brings major challenges in communication, planning and policy.

    Funny, but this post will get 3-4 comments. The one prior to it, arguing the difference between marketing and PR, got over 30. The one on Kent State’s errant spending (the one following this) is at 13 and rising. Not sure what that says about our priorities in the blogosphere. But that’s why I study it.

  5. Chad says:

    A solution is to have a gun range in every mall with carry allowed enviornments. No retard with a plan to kill a lot of people for a “score” goes to the police station to pick a fight, nor the pawn shops, nor gun shows. Any ideas why children? Because they don’t like people shooting back. I’m one of many members that pack at church. Frankly, I have a hard time understanding why you’d think christians wouldn’t carry. If any of my fellow man were in trouble and at risk of being murdered by some moron with mental issues, I would drop them without a second thought knowing God would approve.

  6. Bill Sledzik says:

    Praise the Lord, Chad. Next time I end up in a place of worship I’ll be comforted to know you’ve got my back. Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.

    BTW, I do agree that we need more ranges. Closest one to my home is 12 miles — a long way to go to pop off a few rounds, eh? And Chad, next time you drop in on a stranger’s blog, you might work a little harder to, you know, get the point of the post. You clearly did not.

  7. George Mctye says:

    Hey there Bill;

    I chanced upon your website by accident while researching the “Guns in church” issue which I saw on the Fox News TV channel this morning.

    As I am a big Second Amendment supporter, I suppose my opinion on this question ought to be fairly obvious – I do support the right to carry – in churches as well as most locations. (I’m not quite sure HOW I feel about places which serve alcohol, because I feel there MAY be legitimate places in which to restrict carry. However I am much more in support of SEVERE penalties for ANYONE who causes a ruckus in a bar while armed, unless they’re attempting to stop one, than I am in favor of restricting anyone’s personal or civil rights!)

    My take on all of this is as follows: I believe in the freedom of speach and expression and the right to be armed, so long as by exercising those rights you do not infringe upon my own, nor make things unsafe for others. (You can’t yell “FIRE!” in a public place!) I do NOT believe we can make ourselves safer from a miniscule minority, by restricting the rights of the vast majority.

    Therefore, I believe that so long as a person passes stringent checks on background and mental health, has a clean criminal record, and just as importantly, demonstrates clear competancy with whatever weapon he desires to carry (short of a flame thrower or a Thompson machine gun!) that individual ought to be allowed to carry it wherever he wishes.

    I do NOT believe that the current draconian measures of taking away Dad’s nose-hair sissors or Grandma’s knitting needles as they board an airplane have made us any safer! I do NOT believe we should go in the direction that the Israelies have taken since circa-1967. To whit – armed guards at the supermarket or in McDonnalds, doing random pocketbook checks for weapons!

    THIS was the direction in which the former administration would have LIKED to go, as i see it, and I am afraid that the current one will be no different. On that issue, I believe that we’ve gone from the frying pan directly into the slaughtering pen!

    Therefore, as sad as it makes me to say so – I do support the right for good, decent, law-abiding citizens to carry handguns, well-concealed and in a secure manner, into church each week.

  8. Travis says:

    It’s a sad day when we need protection in our own churches! I attend a very small church on a regular basis so we don’t have the funds nor do we feel there is really an adequate need for security guards. But, I wouldn’t put it past larger churches if they feel like they need them. It’s a sad situation, but a reality for the world we live in.

    purple martin house

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