Security/Emergency Information

We get letters…Thoughts on armed or unarmed

Guest post
Pinchas Levin

A little over a year ago we published a post, Armed or unarmed security, what’s best? which still represents our thinking about armed or unarmed guards. With all of the recent mass shootings one of our loyal readers sent us his thinking on the subject and raised other concerns. The following, which represents his opinion for your consideration, especially regarding the concern that even if a person is licensed to carry a weapon, they might be as dangerous to others as an attacker. We agree that that any armed guards should be required to regularly practice at an appropriate facility and formally qualified to use their weapons effectively.

Re: Arming Teachers

I think we can all agree that no further infringements on the 2nd Amendment would serve any useful purpose in curbing school shootings. “Gun free zones” are as fictional as Santa Claus and the Easter bunny. Every mass shooting in the last 10 years took place in a “gun free zone”. Obviously (to most rational people!) no perpetrator is likely to choose a venue where somebody might shoot back! But, as for “teachers with guns”, simply HAVING a gun doesn’t afford any protection at all and, on the contrary, in unskilled hands would likely cause injury to any number of innocent bystanders. Unless they are highly skilled and practiced, armed civilians are simply a menace to society.

When I became responsible for security at my shul, I discovered that a dozen men were carrying (it’s Texas, after all). I interviewed them to determine their level of competence and learned that most hadn’t fired their gun in years, couldn’t specify its make or model, and probably could not have picked it from a police lineup. Imagine the mayhem that would result in a crowded room if a dozen unskilled shooters decided to shoot at a perpetrator. Could they hit their target at all, let alone with the adrenaline pumping? Would they be aware of what’s BEHIND their target, or how many walls their rounds would penetrate – both within and outside the building?

Defensive shooting in a public space requires extensive mental and practical preparation – study, practice, previewing and situational awareness, not to mention an understanding of local and state laws. I promptly posted a “guns prohibited” sign on the front door (called an “Ordinance 30.06” sign in Texas) and then tried to find a few IDF or US veterans who could pass the US Marshal Service Course of Fire – a basic shooting skills test used at another Orthodox synagogue in town. Unfortunately, after more than a year, I’m still the only person who has passed it – and it’s astonishingly basic. In desperation, I requested that one IDF Infantry vet and one US Paratrooper vet, both combat-seasoned – although some years ago – carry in the congregation on Shabbos.

For public schools, a more practical approach would perhaps be to limit access to the building, deploy metal detectors, silent [panic button] alarms and skilled defensive shooters at school entrances and exits; and very importantly, to indemnify them and their institutions against corollary death or injury.

Speaking of which, schools and religious institutions need to be covered by a publicly funded insurance program in the event of a terror threat or defensive shooting. I’ve discussed this issue with both Cornerstone’s (Rev. Hagee’s) security people and those at the other Orthodox synagogue in town. We all examined our insurance policies and found that none of us currently have or are able to obtain liability insurance that protects anyone other than the insurance company – a major risk to all of us. [Editor’s note: we recommend that you discuss this issue with your insurance broker.]

Re: silent alarms: I have received halachic permission (perkuach ha nefesh – to preserve a life) to issue small pager buttons – mostly to women who tend to children in the foyer and hallways – that sound a soft chime in my talit bag in the event of a perceived threat or emergency. [Editor’s note: JCRC-NY does not make halachic determinations. Please consult your own rabbi for guidance.] No simple solutions here!

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