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Thriving in an Age of Violence: Be the Victor not the Victim

Violent attacks in public places, while not common, are well reported and cause concern worldwide. You are much more likely to die from shark attack. While the statistics say don’t worry, if you should find yourself in such a situation, an ounce fore thought is worth more than a pound of guns.

The good news about attacks: Increasingly, they are met with unexpected (by the killer) and successful armed resistance. I waited to write about the attack in the Texas church until I was able to verify details. I learned long ago that the first report about anything is almost always wrong.

Every public building in the United States is built according to fire codes and have features such as fire alarms and marked emergency exits. While it has been over a hundred years since anyone died in a school child or church fire, we still prepare for this dangerous possibility. Likewise, even though violent attacks are highly unlikely, you should be aware and prepare.

On 29 December, 2019 two parishioners and a shooter were killed during a church service near Fort Worth, Texas. A member on a volunteer armed security team shot and killed the gunman seconds after the incident began. The service was broadcast on livestream, watch it here: video

The story starts with Jack Wilson, (71 years old) the head of the church’s volunteer security team. Wilson is a former reserve sheriff’s deputy and firearms instructor. He runs an armed church security team of 16–18 church members every Sunday. This may seem like a large security team, but the church is located in an area which has seen a rise in crime and gang activity. They were concerned and took action.

Over the past 2 years, the team conducted over 300 hours of training, about 10 times that of a typical police agency. There were also some number of other armed parishioners, not team members, as there are every Sunday. The security team was scattered around the congregation. The other armed parishioners sat wherever they pleased. There were 242 souls in the church that day.

When an unknown man entered the Sunday service wearing a heavy coat on a warm day with a wig and fake beard, the team took notice. They had no legal authority to confront him, frisk him, or even do anything but wish him “good morning”. They watched and kept close to him. I will not name him.

The shooter stood up and confronted a church member delivering communion, pulling out a pistol grip shotgun from under his coat. A security team member, drew his own gun, attracting the attention of the shooter. The team member was shot with a 12 gauge mini-slug from about 15 feet. The round went through him, bounced off an I-beam behind some sheetrock in the wall, and traveled to the other side of the sanctuary. The shooter then shot the original church member with 00 mini-buckshot at close range. Both men died.

Jack Wilson was about 20 yards away. When the shooter fired his shotgun, some parishioners stood up blocking a clear shot. Wilson closed to 15 yards, the only shot he had was a headshot. He fired his SIG P229 (chambered in .357 Sig) only once. Jack believes God was guided the bullet.  

Texas Department of Public Safety reported that the shooter had 7 more rounds in the shotgun. He was using 12 gauge 1.75 inch mini-rounds (normal 12 gauge rounds are 2.75 inches long) and had 3 more in his pocket, all a mixture of slugs and buckshot. A slug is a 7/8 ounce solid piece of lead which has the penetration to injure multiple victims. 00 buck (also known as double ought buck) launches .33 inch pellets. Mini rounds typically contain 5 pellets.

Elapsed time from the shooter’s first exposure of the shotgun to Jack’s final shot was six seconds. From first shot to last shot, it was only four seconds. Two parishioners and the shooter lay dead. Two dead is a tragedy. It could have been much worse. A shooting in the gun free Sutherland Springs Baptist Church two years ago, left 26 dead and 20 wounded. The shooting lasted over ten minutes.

In the video, you can see about 7 other armed security team members move to assist Jack. They were restrained and professional. If Jack had missed, he had a trained team backing him.

Firearms training is critical for armed volunteers but de-escalation and when to shoot is more important than how. Vital skills include situational awareness, threat identification, working around bystanders and evaluating backdrop. The video from Texas clearly demonstrates the difficulties involved. It is graphic but educational.

Without criticism of the effective response of the security team, there is much to be learned. Why was a suspicious man with a wig and a fake beard wearing an over coat was allowed to enter the sanctuary without anyone talking with him and evaluating him. Witnesses say he was clearly out of place.

The first security team member to respond was slow to draw and did not move offline. He paid with his life for a delay allowing others to act effectively. You can see that while the threat was neutralized, there were several armed team members moving through the church with a lack of muzzle awareness, pointing guns at the entire congregation.

After the threat was down, one team member placed himself behind the threat opposite the team member who has just fired creating a potential crossfire situation. These lessons will be studied and applied around the world.

Force on force training with airsoft is a critical component of security team training. Time at the range is necessary but only works one skill set. Team members must learn to anticipate, communicate and coordinate their responses in complex rapidly evolving critical situations.

Jack consults with local churches about security. This is what he says,“If someone tries to tell you you don’t need a gun in church, I’m here to tell you you do!” The Church Security Alliance maintains an updates list of Church Security Incidents on their website. The frequency of such occurrences may surprise you. While we can’t eliminate evil, churches, synagogues, mosques and temples can anticipate it and plan for security measures to mitigate risk.

Presidential candidate Joe Biden has called the Governor of Texas “totally irrational” for signing the law which allows churchgoers to legally carry guns and protect themselves. In self-defense deprived New York, Jews have endured a series of attacks and gun control leader California leads the nation in mass slayings with eight tragedies in the last year. What are we to do?

As an individual, the overwhelming thing in all crime avoidance is situational awareness. This is a simple concept but difficult to apply in a world full if distractions and drama.

  1. Look around, anticipate problems (ie. a guy in a trench coat with a wig and a fake beard) and avoid them.
  2. Trust your feelings. In his powerful book “The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence” Gavin De Becker says “Intuition is always right in at least two important ways; It is always in response to something. It always has your best interest at heart.” If you have a bad feeling about something, walk away.
  3. Before the bad man comes, prepare yourself. Don’t act out of fear, but rationaly train and if legal and appropriate, arm yourself. If guns aren’t an option, there are Tasers and pepper spray.

Collectively, we can organize and train. Church security teams, like the successful team in Texas, are increasingly popular in areas of the country which legally allow self-defense. Properly trained and integrated into a church emergency response plan, a small team of trained people can avert tragedy. Many people of faith abhor violence and dislike the idea of armed security. While understandable, these attitudes make attacks more likely to be more deadly.

Writing a well thought out plan and forming a church security team can be the difference between life and death. It starts with research. There are organizations Church Security Alliance, Sheepdog Church Security and Magen Am USA (Hebrew for “Nation’s Shield”) who can help. Many local law enforcement agencies are happy to offer advice and assistance.

There are some simple steps that can be taken without controversy.

  1. Identify existing talents among your members (law enforcement and medical training)
  2. Establish security protocols and response
  3. Control Access to church facilities
  4. Monitor people entering facilities
  5. Identify potential threats
  6. Effectively address those threats at the lowest force level possible

Armed volunteers are effective as we saw in Texas but what about areas where civilians are not allowed to carry guns? Magen Am USA Inc. ( has developed an innovative approach in California. While California law allows for concealed carry permits, Sheriffs have the discretion to deny them. Many California Sheriffs only provide permits to celebrities and campaign donors. Based in Los Angeles, Magen Am certifies their volunteers as armed security guards under state law where they cannot carry as “mere” civilians.

A registered 501(C)3, Magen Am’s mission statement is “To Train and Empower the community to Secure itself from within.” They are licensed through the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (BSIS) as a Private Patrol Operator. This means that in rabidly anti-gun California, they are authorized to carry guns to defend their congregations.

The challenge in politically disarmed areas is daunting. Magen Am’s approach is a great example of rising to a challenge. Not limited to a single religion or state, Magen Am can be contacted on Facebook or at They have a mobile training teams and viable experience in areas legally hostile to self-defense.

Evils exists, we have a right and obligation to protect ourselves those around us. There are many things that can be done to prevent violent attacks even in areas where civilians are legally disarmed. Do something; research, talk, organize, get training, budget for security. You can be the difference.

Jack Wilson was not a 71 year old victim. He was a protector and a mentor. Be like Jack.

About the Author /

Mark Miller is a former Customs Agent and a Green Beret who served in Afghanistan and a number of other live fire locations. A student of firearms and shooting, he is an FFL and a SOT. The guiding philosophy of his life is that terrain and situation dictate tactics and the enemy always gets a vote on any plan.

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