Active shooters at church, other incidents covered in updated LDS church security guidelines

ST. GEORGE — Due to “changing conditions around the world,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released updated security guidelines Thursday on what to do during an active shooter situation and otherwise dangerous and suspicious incidents at church.

FILE – In this July 23, 2018, file photo, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints church where a longtime rural Nevada volunteer firefighter was fatally shot during a Sunday services is shown in Fallon, Nevada | AP file  Photo by Scott Sonner, St. George News

“These guidelines are meant to help educate leaders and members on how to increase safety at church buildings and activities” the LDS church’s Presiding Bishopric stated in a letter to church leaders Thursday. “We invite leaders to discuss them in ward and stake councils and to use them to teach members, as needed, to address local concerns. Leaders should apply these guidelines appropriately and be aware of local laws.”

The Presiding Bishopric released two versions of the letter, one addressing international leaders and the other covering the United States and Canada.

Another purpose of the updated guidelines is to help church leaders and members keep coming and “trusting in the Lord for guidance and safety,” according to the letter.

Emphasis is also placed on relying on law enforcement to deal with security incidents and emergencies.

According to a press release from the church summarizing the letter, safety practices that members can exercise include being aware of one’s surroundings, staying calm, extending friendship and respect to every visitor, not being alone in a church building and following the promptings of the Holy Ghost for guidance and safety.

A chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, place and date unspecified | Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, St. George News

In addition to being aware of one’s surroundings, members are encouraged to remove themselves from a situation if it doesn’t feel right, whether it be a meeting, interview, activity or other church function, then contact local leaders or law enforcement.

Members are asked to report suspicious activity. They are told in the guidelines to focus on someone’s behavior and not necessarily their appearance. Members should also avoid being alone in a church building, especially women and children.

The letter also outlines what church leaders can do to promote safety and security at church facilities and events.

In relation to firearms in church buildings, LDS officials discouraged people from carrying firearms into church unless they were law enforcement officers as it was considered inappropriate otherwise. In August the church updated its policy to expressly forbid firearms from being brought into a building with the aforementioned exception.

Churchgoers gathered for a meeting in a chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, place and date unspecified | Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, St. George News

“Churches are dedicated for the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world. With the exception of current law enforcement officers, carrying lethal weapons on Church property, concealed or otherwise, is prohibited,” the church states in the administrating handbooks used by church leaders.

There are also guidelines on how to respond to an armed intruder and active shooter incidents.

While no reference to any specific incident or threat is made in the letter, churches and other places of worship have been the targets of mass shootings. However, there have been incidents of shootings at LDS churches. Last year a man shot and killed a fellow churchgoer while at church in Nevada. In 2010, a bishop in California was fatally shot in between church meetings.

The church ask leaders and members to “run, hide or fight” in an active shooter situation. This practice has been employed by secular institutions and is further detailed on Ready.gov.

“These instructions are taught by law enforcement and security industry experts as the most appropriate response to such a situation,” the church press release states.

Run. Flee immediately if a safe path is available. Move quickly to the safest exit and away from the building to a safe location. Exit quietly, without drawing the assailant’s attention. Adults are to ensure that all children are supervised and accounted for. Do not return to the building or to an office or classroom for personal items. Do not carry anything that could be mistaken for a weapon by responding law enforcement.

FILE – In this Oct. 1, 2017, file photo, police run toward the scene of a shooting near the Mandalay Bay resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Hide. If you are unable to escape safely, hide out of sight of the assailant’s view. If possible, close, lock and barricade the doors to the classroom, office or other room where you are hiding. Turn out the lights, silence mobile phones, and keep low to the floor and away from windows. If there is an exchange of gunfire between law enforcement and the assailant, everyone in the building is to stay in their barricaded rooms until instructed otherwise by law enforcement.

Fight. As a last resort, if there is no time to run or hide, fight back against the assailant. Use anything available as a weapon and fight to stop the assailant. If others are present, organize to defend yourselves.

Ready.gov also provides instruction on what to do following an active shooter incident:

  • Keep hands visible and empty.
  • Know that law enforcement’s first task is to end the incident, and they may have to pass injured along the way.
  • Officers may be armed with rifles, shotguns, and/or handguns and may use pepper spray or tear gas to control the situation.
  • Officers will shout commands and may push individuals to the ground for their safety.
  • Follow law enforcement instructions and evacuate in the direction they come from unless otherwise instructed.
  • Take care of yourself first, and then you may be able to help the wounded before first responders arrive.
  • If the injured are in immediate danger, help get them to safety.
  • While you wait for first responders to arrive, provide first aid. Apply direct pressure to wounded areas and use tourniquets if you have been trained to do so.
  • Turn wounded people onto their sides if they are unconscious and keep them warm.
  • Consider seeking professional help for you and your family to cope with the long-term effects of the trauma.