Beneath the Christmas lights still hanging in the church’s fellowship room, Jack Mills pointed a Glock handgun at his enemy’s chest and pulled the trigger. A loud crack rang out as a shell casing flew from the weapon, but the man facing the gunfire didn’t fall. Instead a red light on his high-tech vest began blinking, signaling a hit from the laser in Mills’ gun. A U.S. Air Force veteran, Mills began designing the equipment a year ago to help armed churchgoers learn how to confront a gunman. Shooting a paper target is one thing, Mills said. Firing at a real person is another. “If you haven’t shot somebody in the face, how do you know you can?” he said. Mills is part of a growing cottage industry in Texas that uses police-like tactics to train churchgoers who fear the next attack could target their house of worship. Requests for help spike after each tragedy, businesses said. The most recent came in December, when a man opened fire during Sunday service at a White Settlement church and killed two worshippers, before he was fatally shot by an armed congregant. There’s no official count of how many congregation members pack heat in Texas churches. But security businesses said the number is growing thanks to recent changes by the Legislature that make it easier for worshippers to carry guns in church and form teams of armed protectors. With few industry standards, however, the training offered in Texas runs the gamut from active shooter drills, to programs that demand congregants pass a psychological evaluation and train for hours in life-like scenarios. One Texas firm has a trainer walk the church halls shooting blanks, so parishioners learn what approaching gunfire sounds like in their own sanctuary. “What’s driving it is an awareness,” said Carl Chinn, president of the national Faith Based Security Network. “We were under some illusion that because we had a cross on the roof and a name over the door that we were somehow immune from these kinds of attacks.” Still, congregations grapple with whether to welcome guns in the door. Just under half of 1,000 Protestant pastors nationwide reported arming their members, according to a survey released in January by Lifeway Research. Roughly 6% of the pastors said they hire police or armed security during services, a step that can be out of reach for smaller churches that don’t have the funding. Some critics warn that letting congregants carry guns without any training could lead to catastrophe if a firefight erupts in a crowded church. It can be a delicate balance stationing armed congregants at the church doors, while still maintaining an atmosphere inviting to newcomers.
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