(WOIO) - Pastors nationwide are facing an uncomfortable question: Should people be armed in a house of worship? While a place of peace and a house of refuge, churches can also become targets for violence.
On June 17, 2015, nine people were shot and killed during a bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC.
On March 1, 2013, a gunman opened fire during a funeral at Omega Baptist Church in Cleveland.
"The church was packed. People were running over each other screaming and hollering. I have never seen anything like this before," said Rev. Benjamin Finney.
These terrifying moments are forcing pastors to evaluate how they will protect their people.
Last year across the United States, there were 76 violent deaths reported in churches.
While many of us debate allowing guns in churches, laws vary state by state. Michigan prohibits weapons inside religious buildings. Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia all allow weapons inside churches, as long as the carrier has a proper license. In Ohio, it's illegal to carry a concealed handgun into a place of worship unless a church leader gives permission.
Don't expect to get that permission if you're going to a Catholic church in Cleveland.
"We have 186 parishes. In each one of those, the sign is up at the entrance to the church itself that says, 'no weapons under state law.' That's really what we imply in all of our situations within the diocese," explained Robert Tayek, a spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland.
Tayek says while people can't come to services armed, they do have professional security teams working in some of their parishes.
Near Cincinnati, Mount Carmel Christian Church is taking a different approach.
"We have the right to say 'yes or no' to that," said Rev. Didi Bacon.
Bacon says some members have asked permission to carry their firearms in church and he's allowed it on a case-by-case basis. He says the reality of the world we live in is that church is no longer immune from violence.
"Whether it be vandalism, theft, or heaven forbid, a terrorist event," said Bacon. "You cannot be naive today."
Mount Carmel also has a trained security team and pays the local police department for a uniformed, armed officer during services.
Former Police Officer Mark Stusek and his company, G2G Solutions, LLC, assess Ohio church properties for safety vulnerabilities and help them design security plans. Stusek doesn't think allowing individual parishioners to conceal carry is a good idea. He feels a trained -- often armed -- security team is the best defense.
"Whether we're talking about San Bernardino or church shootings, they're over within three to seven minutes, so police are a non-factor," Stusek explained.
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