In last July’s issue Church Executive carried an article about a Kansas church executive pastor relying on a concealed carry handgun for security. An Arizona pastor responds here to his perceived need to carry a gun in church for the safety of his parishioners. Rev. Larry Dickey pastors at First Baptist Church, Sunizona, AZ, about three hours east of Phoenix.
Why one pastor carries a handgun in church
“When people can defend themselves, you’re going to have criminals thinking twice about what they will do.”
By Larry Dickey
For some it is a question that needs to be answered. I do so because there is a need for people to understand that we need to defend families and ourselves. We are not a nation that understands how important it is to be vigilant in safely handling a firearm in a defensive manner – with courts and other segments of our society thinking if we are unarmed we will be a safer people. But there is a phrase that resonates: “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” I do not want to see that happen in my community or church.
We are a community of ranches and farmers. Besides our one neighbor behind us, our next nearest neighbor is about 200 yards away. In a five-mile radius of our church, we have fewer than 500 people. The church is one of the oldest in southeast Arizona, built in 1952. We have about 25 to 35 in attendance each week. My wife and I have been pastoring rural churches for more than 35 years.
Arizona has been a right-to-carry state all along. In fact in Arizona you do not need to have a license to conceal carry. However, if you go to another state without an Arizona CCW permit, you will get nailed from the other jurisdictions for no permit at all. Before we moved here, we were on the Nevada-Utah state line. I had a CCW for both states since Nevada did not reciprocate with Utah on CCW permit, because in their training they, Utah, did not require qualifications with your weapon of choice. In fact, there have been a couple of times when I was asked for some identification, and instead of showing a driver’s license for Arizona, I would show my CCW – just as good as a driver’s license issued by the state.
I have been involved with law enforcement since high school. I was in one of the first Law Enforcement Explorer posts in southern California in the 1960s. I have a degree in police science, now called criminal justice, and have been an endorsed chaplain with my denomination for more than 25 years.
Responsibility to protect
I am quite aware of what our police officers are up against. Any time that I can help them, I will. That is the responsibility of all citizens. We need to take a stand where we can and when we can. Too long we have allowed the criminals to take over. When we stand up, they cower like the cowards that they are. We are free people. As a free people we have a right and responsibility to protect our families, churches and communities whenever necessary.
I have seen how under-protected we have become, by solely expecting law enforcement to keep us safe. They cannot. They will be the first to admit this. They need a population that is willing to step up into harm’s way and do what needs to be done, at a time that it needs to be done.
If someone were to come into our church with a gun or a knife, they could do a lot of damage before the police could get to the church. Even if we had officers in the parking lot, by the time they could get inside, it would be over. We, as citizens, need to protect what we love and be willing to lay our life on the line for them.
Some people question whether guns belong in church. In my view, we have seen and read of folks who entered a church with the intent of doing a fair amount of hurt and killing with the guns they carried into houses of worship. They expect people inside to be unarmed and feeling safe inside a church. This is not always the case.
The truth is that in every state where the citizens are allowed to carry concealed guns, the crime rate is down. Conversely, in every state where citizens were not allowed to conceal carry, the crime rate has gone up. Look at California and Illinois. When people can defend themselves, you’re going to have criminals thinking twice about what they will do.
A friend of mine, retired from the local police department, has, on the average Sunday morning, five or six church members actively CCW. They draw from a number of police agencies as well as prisons in their areas. The police cannot be expected to protect everybody and every church. As pastor, it is my responsibility to make our church as safe as possible.
Using gun properly
It’s a matter of having a gun and using it properly. You have to train and go out to the range and know what you can do and what you cannot do. You have to train with every possible scenario and know how to use your weapon.
I choose to stay concealed, because if I were to open carry, I would become a target. If I am in a situation, I want to be able to get the optimum protection and position as possible. I can’t do that if I open carry.
I would like to be able to have folks who would be there to back each other up. However, you cannot plan these scenarios out. We have to react to others and what they will do. No one really knows the criminal mind.
I am a firm believer that if more people carried either openly or concealed, we would not have the crime that we have right now. If you look at the cities and states that have strict gun control laws, their crime rates are very high. Conversely, if you look at cities and states that allow their citizens to protect themselves, the crime rate is lower. The reason is when criminals don’t know if the place that they are going into will be armed and defending themselves, they are going to think twice about their crime.
When was the last time that you heard of a gun store being robbed?