Josh Lifford, pastor of Betta View Hills Church of Christ in Oxford, said he is armed in the pulpit during church services.
“We have 260 members and around 230 in attendance each week,” he said. “Do we really want that many funerals in Oxford at one time?”
House Bill 465, sponsored by Rep. Ron Johnson, R-Sylacauga, in the Alabama Legislature, would provide a level of protection for people to use deadly force on church grounds in Talladega County, though some critics say the bill is unnecessary. Legislative records suggest it could come before the full House as early as Thursday.
The local legislation is one of several county-specific bills currently in the Legislature after a statewide bill stalled in March.
Alabama’s “stand your ground” law, also known as the castle doctrine, states that a person would be justified in using physical force in self-defense or in the defense of another person if he or she reasonably believes there is a threat of imminent, unlawful physical force.
Lifford, a Talladega resident who supports the bill, said there are several police officers who are members of Betta View Hills who carry weapons to services. He said there are also two armed security guards posted outside of the sanctuary during services and that the church’s secretary is armed as well.
“There is probably one person in every section that is armed each week, if not more than one,” Lifford said.
Donald Sills, pastor of First Baptist Church in Anniston, said “unarmed monitors” stay in the lobby during services at First Baptist.
“I think it’s a shame that we’ve come to this. I guess that’s obvious,” he said. “I think it is becoming a necessity. There are hundreds, hundreds of churches that are soft targets. Most churches don’t have the resources to hire armed security guards.”
Sills said he is not opposed to the bill, but does not see it as a deterrent to violence against the church.
“I’m not sure that if a person is already in such a desperate state of mind that they would do something that drastic that a bill is going to make any difference,” he said. “If somebody is that crazy or that desperate, I don’t think they are going to stop to ponder what bills are on the books.”
Lifford said he believes the bill could be an issue for the public’s perception of Christianity.
“When it comes to Christianity and being a Christian, and what you’re putting out to people, I know there’s a fine line there because we live in a world that’s very sensitive to judgment,” he said.
“We take strong stance against things like abortion, but at the same time we would look at this issue and somebody might come back and give the argument that well, you’re supporting murder because of self-defense,” he said.
Lifford said he recognizes that some scriptures say Christians should “turn the other cheek” but that someone attempting to take a life is more extreme.
“The difference is, when you go and do something deliberately, that’s when it becomes wrong,” he said. “Protecting ourselves, on the other hand, I believe is something that God would want us to do.”
Dana Ellis, chapter leader for the Alabama chapter of Moms Demand Action on Gun Sense in America, said the bill is unnecessary because churches are not excluded from the state’s current stand-your-ground law.
“It is very unclear why this legislation has been introduced,” she said. “It is bothersome to me that legislators are wasting time and resources drafting this bill when there is no point to it.”
Ellis said the organization is against the expansion of the bill, even for one county.
“We already have one of the most expansive stand-your-ground laws in the country,” Ellis said. “This bill doesn’t make it clear that the threat must be made with deadly force for the person to retaliate with deadly force, which could make it potentially dangerous.”
Kris Moloney, owner of Sheepdog Church Security in of Minnesota, said he supports the bill. The security company focuses on “creating training materials for part-time church safety or security directors” and has trained guards who currently work at Anniston churches.
Moloney said the law allows people to defend themselves while in churches.
“There has been a rise in the number of active shooters across the nation, including in houses of worship,” he said. “Churches are no longer off-limits for acts of hatred or vandalism. I can remember when churches were left unlocked all the time, but that isn’t possible anymore.”
Moloney said it is not feasible to expect law enforcement officers to respond quickly enough to save the greatest number of lives.
“Private citizens have to stand in the gap between law enforcement arriving and the bad guy arriving,” he said.
The state’s castle doctrine was amended in 2006 when the Legislature voted to remove the “duty to retreat” clause from the law. This means a person is no longer expected to flee a scene if there is a reasonable threat of physical force being used against them. Rather, the person can respond with the use of deadly force.