Ep. 43 Should I Shoot? The Trench Coat and the Crowded Church

Editor’s Note: The following is a post by Mark Kakkuri, a nationally published freelance writer who covers guns and gear, 2nd Amendment issues and the outdoors. His writing and photography have appeared in many firearms-related publications, including the USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @markkakkuri.

Check out the last five episodes in this series:

On a Sunday morning somewhere in Michigan, dozens of people, including you, are entering one of many suburban churches. This particular church sits on the edge of four communities, three of which are described as typical, middle-class suburbia — you know, Starbucks, indoor trampoline park, nice community college. The fourth community is a poorer, economically distressed community — roads not well kept, a few burned-out houses, lots of stray animals.

In recent months, the church, an icon in its community for more than 60 years, has endured several thefts and seen an increase in people showing up on the premises looking for handouts. As a result, while trying to meet legitimate needs in the surrounding communities, the church has just started a scratch security program to help deal with any problems or even threats that might arise before, during or after Sunday morning worship services. The small security team isn’t predisposed to assuming trouble will most likely come from the economically distressed community, but they weren’t expecting it to show up in a suit, tie and trench coat.

A little background: Michigan law requires anyone with a concealed pistol license to have permission from the church’s presiding officers before carrying concealed on premises. And, because you’re a law-abiding citizen and a faithful attendee, you obtained that very permission several months ago. You don’t always carry your single-stack 9 (with one spare mag in your weak-side pocket) in the church, but on this particular Sunday, you do. Moreover, you’ve talked to the church’s security leader about possibly joining the team and taking a shift every now and then. It seems like a good way to participate in the life of the church and you want to help. As such, you’re 10 times more vigilant than the average churchgoer, grateful to worship freely in America but also aware of recent violent incidents at other churches around the country. In short, you’re realistic about the threats.

It’s 10:39 a.m. and the service starts at 10:45 a.m. You’ve taken your seat on an aisle about 10 rows back from the front row. You have a clear view of the stage and the pulpit is just to your right. You watch other people file in and take their seats. The pianist is playing a welcome tune. People are greeting one another, getting kids situated and sipping their coffees. Then you spot a man who you don’t recognize wearing a long trench coat. He’s looking for a seat about 30 chairs to your right but in the front row. He’s also looking at the stage, looking behind him, etc. It’s a little strange but “not every trench coat means a gun is hiding underneath,” you chide yourself, trying to think the best…

Then the man takes off his trench coat, moving in such a way that you see he is not only wearing a suit and tie but, under the suit coat, is a shoulder holster with a large, semiautomatic pistol. The man folds his trench coat and places it on the seat next to him, adjusts his suit coat, trying to wrap it around him more but not actually buttoning the coat. He picks up the bulletin and looks through it, waiting for the service to start.

You immediately but nonchalantly get up, find the security team leader and discreetly let him know what you saw. He finds another security team member, reports what’s happening and then takes a seat directly behind the man with the shoulder-holstered pistol.

Then the church service officially starts. You participate in the service as you can but are quite distracted by the man who is carrying the large pistol. Thoughts of all types cross your mind: What if this man is a law enforcement officer? If so, he’s exempt from having to get permission from the church’s presiding officials. What if he’s a private citizen with a concealed pistol permit? Maybe he too has gained permission and you just don’t know about it. He’s clearly not a part of the church’s security team and his holster and apparel have not done very well concealing his pistol. What if he does something during the service, such as getting up and approaching the stage during the minister’s message?

But the service goes without incident and the man carrying the concealed pistol behaves, for all intents and purposes, like a typical churchgoer — standing when you’re supposed to stand, sitting when you’re supposed to sit, singing when you’re supposed to sing, etc.

Right at the conclusion of the service, one of the security team members approaches the man, greeting him with a friendly smile and an offer of a handshake. You discreetly make your way over to try to listen in on the conversation and possibly be of help, just in case something goes awry. The security team member who sat behind the man comes around to his front and starts an interchange:

“Hi, how are you today?” the security team member says. “My name is Bill. Are you new here?”

“No, I used to come here several years ago,” the man replies. “Just visiting today.”

“I see. Well, we are glad to have you,” Bill says. “Say, I happened to notice you’re carrying a concealed pistol. Can you tell me why you’re carrying in this church?”

Bill has a pleasant but firm look on this face. The man’s eyes widen as he hears Bill’s question.

“Oh! Well, I, uh, I have a concealed carry license and carry everywhere,” he said.

He starts pulling his jacket closed, trying to better hide the gun from view.

“I see. Well, according to the laws of the State of Michigan, you’re not to carry on church premises without permission from the church,” Bill says.

“Right, yeah, but I’ve had all the training so it’s, you know, totally safe,” the man says.

As he stammers through his answers, you see him getting a bit red in the neck and face, fidgeting more, unhappy to be confronted in this way. He stands up. Bill stays cool and collected.

“Sir, here’s what I’d like for you to do,” Bill says. “First, you should know I am an off-duty police officer and a member of the church’s security team. While we appreciate the 2nd Amendment and your desire to exercise that right, state law as it stands today prohibits you from carrying on premises without the church’s explicit permission. I’d like to ask you to leave the premises immediately.”

Bill gestures as if to show the man a path to the exit.

“If you come back — and you are welcome anytime — you are to leave your gun in your vehicle,” he says.

You’re still in the church sanctuary, watching this conversation unfold from about 10 feet away, to the back of the man but in the clear line of sight of the security team member. Dozens of people are all around, chatting with one another, oblivious to the conversation-turned-confrontation. At this point, any number of scenarios could play out.

Should I Shoot?

Scenario 1: The man puts on his trench coat and quickly and deliberately heads for an exit. He’s clearly steamed on being called out for carrying on church premises. Not knowing him or his intentions, you and Bill follow him out of the building and to the parking lot — sort of an escort out to help make the point. He turns and looks back at Bill with a scowl, shaking his head. You guess the man won’t be back. Hopefully, this situation is over, only to be brought up as a matter of training for the next security team meeting.

Scenario 2: But as he gets in his car, you see him fumbling with his coat. He puts his car in gear and the tires squeak a bit as he makes a quick backward movement out of the parking spot. He somewhat erratically drives toward the main entrance where you and the security team member are standing. He spins the steering wheel with one hand and brakes hard, putting the car about 50 feet in front you, driver side door toward you. He glares out his window at you both. Neither hand is visible and he just sits there for several seconds. His driving has caught the attention of others in the church parking lot and they’ve stopped to give attention to this bizarre standoff. Questions race through your mind: What is this guy doing? Where are his hands?

Scenario 3: All of the sudden, his door flings open and he steps out but stays behind his door. One of his hands is on the top of his car door; the other appears to be reaching inside his suit coat, as if going for a draw. You think back to the sanctuary: Was the gun under his right arm or his left? “His left, definitely,” you think. So, he’s likely right-handed. Which hand is reaching inside his suit coat now? His right … While you watch his hands, you — and everyone else nearby — hear his exclamation: “I know my rights! I’ve got the training! I’m not here to hurt anybody!” Then both of his arms go up in the air in the shape of a “Y” — a sign of exasperation or frustration — and he then sits down back in his car, slams the door and tears out of the parking lot. Bill is already on the phone with the local police, relaying the events as well as the man’s license plate number and vehicle description.

Should I Shoot?

While some of the man’s behaviors were bizarre and unwise, he never presented a threat with his gun or any other weapon. At one point, his driving might have been construed as hostile, but this was in a crowded parking lot with enough room between you and him to allow you to seek cover or escape.

How would any of these three situations have to change in order for you to be justified in drawing your gun and shooting?

For more critical information on the use of deadly force and other firearms and self-defense topics, visit www.uscca.com/GunsAmerica.

About the author: S.H. Blannelberry is the News Editor of GunsAmerica.

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • loupgarous March 3, 2017, 4:47 pm

    As the member of the parish vestry who informally handled security in my church, I’ve actually had to guide a loud drunk out of our church while the Eucharist service was in mid-session. It went well even though I was not armed (it was before Mississippi passed the law enabling churches to designate trained parishioners to carry weapons concealed in churches), more out of good luck all around than anything else.

    None of the three scenarios would have caused me to draw or allow anyone under my supervision to do so. None of those scenarios would have met the criterion for the use of deadly force – at no time was the subject actually creating the fear in a reasonable person’s mind that anyone was going to die or be badly hurt as a result of his actions.
    That’s not to say my hand wouldn’t be near or on my pistol. It probably would be, with any strap or other safety device off.
    And on active duty in an situation where I am someplace where seconds could count in drawing my weapon, I’d think strongly before accepting a ministry to provide security in my place of worship about explaining the reasons for Condition One carry (cocked and locked) and the attendant risks to my vestry and the minister of the place of worship. If lives are depending on your quick action, Condition One with a safe holster and lots of practice is the way to go.
    Why Condition One? Because any one of the three scenarios, if someone loses the plot, could escalate into an active shooter that fast..

  • R.H. February 26, 2017, 12:18 am

    Wow, what a shitty way to treat someone who is carrying. Bill, the off duty cop, is kind of a jerk. He begins with “glad to have you” then tells the guy to get out when he did nothing threatening. So he failed to ask permission first – he made a mistake or he simply disregarded the law. Bill is rapidly turning what should have been a simple discussion that should have been held outside of the church (after identifying himself) into a confrontational situation. Bill sounds like a rookie cop to me.

    I’m a retired state trooper, here’s what I “generally” would have done. (Picking up from the end of the service) “Hello, welcome to the church, did you enjoy the service?’ (Man answers) “I’m an off duty police officer, would you mind stepping outside with me? I’d like to speak to you about the concealed weapon you appear to be carrying. You’re not in trouble – I simply need to speak to you outside.” (If he baulks, stammers, stutters, whatever, I simply cajole and repeat my request to him until he goes outside). Once outside and away from the crowd I would explain the law and say “In the future, if you want to carry in the church you must ask permission from (Mr. whomever or me) OK?” (He’ll explain why he did this, he’s sorry, yell or whatever but at least now we’re out of the church. I’d keep him and myself calm. Pursuant to this scenario I already know my intent is not to arrest him so…). I say something like “I understand you made a mistake but here’s what we’re going to do – I’m going to walk you to your car and you’re going to have to leave but in the future, if you want to come back while carrying, please obtain permission first OK? That way we won’t have any issues. Let’s head to your car.” (He can bitch or complain or simply comply but he will go unless he was predisposed to violence before he ever arrived). If he complains or bitches I’d likely say something like “I know it’s a silly law but it’s the law and I’d get into trouble if I don’t do my job – you don’t want me to get into trouble do you?” Or, if he’s being kind of a jerk “Look, I can arrest you but I want to give you a break and let you go home. You don’t want to go to jail do you?” (It doesn’t matter whether I believe it’s a silly law or not – I’m simply trying to deescalate the situation and feeling him out). I’ll bet he would end up leaving quietly, happy and definitely without causing a scene like in the scenario. I’ve dealt with things like this and could usually tell how things were going to go within the first 20-30 secs based on their attitude and body language. Many times when I’ve dealt with open or concealed carriers I’ll open with “Don’t show it to me but whatcha carrying there?” Great ice breaker and it lets them know I know they are armed. I’ll also note most concealed carry folks get very nervous when contacted by police – the first thing they loudly say is “I’m carrying a concealed pistol but I have a permit” (fine) and that’s when I’d say “Oh yeah? Don’t show it to me but whatcha carrying there?” And then we’d talk about guns for a moment. Sometimes a long time. Bad guys NEVER advertise that fact.

    Back to this scenario – My point is: The initial contact could have been done much better by the off duty cop. Bill initiated the confrontation, not the other guy. Most contacts like this can be avoided if you simply speak to people politely and directly. I get that we can “what if” this to death but this is how I would have done it – my opinion. Or you could simply call uniformed officers and let them handle it but that might be more disturbing for everyone. Given the scenario as it was, there was never a point where anyone should have drawn their firearm. As for what could have caused the situation to escalate – the sky’s the limit.

    • Palerider March 11, 2017, 12:04 pm

      Well said. I am an ex-police officer, as well as a member of my churches security team. It sounds like Bill is one of those officer’s who could find a fight in a Church Bingo Night. Point out the guy’s mistake, tell him to get permission next time and tell him you are happy he came today; you hope to see him next week either without his gun or after having gotten permission.

      I understand the whole I have right and a permit argument, but does a responsible gun owner want to disrupt a Church Service and scare people? I think not.

      Finally, I think Bill forgot what the Church is there for to begin with.

  • Steven S.Baum February 25, 2017, 4:03 pm

    As a retired LEO and one who qual’s yearly under HR218,I carry at all times.
    I will be sure to never attend a church in your state as I do not expect to be in any area for more than a few days.
    AND there is no way in hell that I will leave my gun IN MY CAR !.
    Hope y’all enjoy “permission” to carry after being allowed.
    Don’t expect to see me or mine in your house of “religion”.

  • Capt D February 24, 2017, 2:59 pm

    It seems to have come to a peaceful conclusion and the angered man took his frustration elsewhere. Definitely on the watch list for future services. A few questions come to mind though;
    With all of the time that passed and the service ended. The off duty police officer and other security team members waited to approach the man for what was probably an hour give or take. Plenty of time for whatever opportunity for this gentleman in the nice suit to open fire.
    Equipped with the knowledge that it is unlawful to possess a firearm in church. Why then would the security members not place an immediate call to the police? This a Should I Call not shoot moment.
    Once the man was identified as a stranger and obviously carrying concealed illegally in church was he not in the wrong?
    Was there not a presence of the possibility of a lethal threat?
    When approached in the crowd surrounded by other unknowing church members at the end of the service, were their lives placed in jeopardy if the man in the nice suit reacted with deadly force?
    Would it have been a better decision to call the police immediately and have the man escorted out by uniformed police officers minutes before or after the service started and not waiting for something to potentially happen in the next hour and then react?
    In this scenario the security team would have shown vigilance and the potential threat was removed early on. If the man was truly a non-threat he would have been corrected by police and should have known the law before attending church.
    Is it not better to lean towards the side of pro-active safety first? Just my perspective..

  • Ray Kunka February 24, 2017, 9:01 am

    At no time in the above scenarios would there have been justification for any guns to be drawn. I do believe that with the exit being somewhat tense, there should be an after action discussion with the security team (s) to be on the look out for this individual during the following services. He might just “stew” over this till he gets the courage to come back and finish a job. This might be a sign and signs need to be acted upon. We see so many news broadcasts where a shooting has taken place and witnesses stated that the perp was acting strangely but dismissed it.

  • tom o. February 24, 2017, 7:47 am

    Good to know there is a rule against carrying in church in Michigan. I will not be visiting chirches there any time soon. If I did visit a new church I would check their policy in advance. I do not want to attend any church which restricts my right to self defense. Those churches are not likely to deliver a message I want to hear.

    • Rich D. February 25, 2017, 12:12 pm

      I agree, Tom that in today’s climate I would not want to attend a church service unarmed, and I rarely do. I am from Michigan, and when our must issue concealed carry law was passed several years ago, it did put restrictions on carrying in certain places. I think those restrictions were included to improve it’s chances of passing. I do have permission from church leadership to carry in my church, and I think many, if not most churches in Michigan would grant that permission if asked.

      • LL February 28, 2017, 1:07 am

        Being a Michigan CPL holder myself(not a LEO), I know the laws regarding Carrying in Churches, restaurants that serve alcohol (less than 50% of their income revenue), etc. Not only should one have permission but have it on paper as a ‘cya’ common sense practice. j/s.

  • Tj2000 February 24, 2017, 4:47 am

    That’s a good scenario for those in the cooler regions. Here in Florida if your wearing a trench coat it better be cold (which only happens a few days a year if any). I am head of our church security and in Florida it is legal to carry concealed in houses of worship without permission.
    Me and 2 other members of my security team are LEO and 1 civilian. All of us train and we qualify at least once every quarter. The only hard rule we have at our church is that no adult can carry a back pack into the service without a consensual search. I they will not let us look at the contents of the back pack then they are asked to leave it in their vehicle or choose to worship somewhere else.
    I will say that there is no way to stop someone who is determined to do harm but we try to limit the possibility of someone trying.
    Great articles I still wish you would put them in book form, I would by it.

  • John Evans February 24, 2017, 4:33 am

    Seems to me the “guest” complied in every situation.
    Why in the world would you draw (or shoot) someone who followed directions?
    If you SHOT every exasperated or frustrated person, there would not be any Democrats left on earth (or half of the Republicans).

  • Jen February 24, 2017, 3:33 am

    +1 on confronting the man in private. Speaking to him in public is not only a potential risk to innocent by standers, but also is an embarrassment to the individual being “dressed down” in front of everyone else at the establishment; which further puts him on the defensive. (Especially if he’s nervous about being the center of attention or returning to church after several years of absence) If he’s emotionally volatile, the public confrontation could cause an incident. (Perhaps not firearm related violence, but even just a loud verbal or physical altercation could quickly escalate and be disruptive at the minimum.)

    Even if such a scene doesn’t happen, the public embarrassment of being confronted and publicly reprimanded in front of his peers is unlikely to make him feel comfortable returning as a regular member in the future. (sans firearm of course.)

    • Daveaguy February 24, 2017, 7:22 am

      Totally agree. How you talk to someone is just as important as what you say. Don’t start right in on “You have a gun!”. Starting with ; Where you from?, How long you hear?, You like the area?, Is there anything I can do to make your stay more comfortable?, are all much better lead ins. Then something like, “I’m a fellow CFP holder and couldn’t help but notice you were carrying. What kind of gun you prefer, Glock or 1911?” After some small talk on guns “By the way, I had to get permission from the pastor to carry here. You legally have to too carry here in the future. The pastor is a great guy/girl. Once you get to know them it likely won’t be an issue, but you legally need to get permission first next time.” You can convey the exact same necessary message about legalities and proper permissions without all the confrontation so long as the person isn’t immediately threatening anyone. If they are threatening people then you should be getting the police there asap. Let them do the confronting whenever possible. If you must step in to confront someone sternly now just know up front it is likely going to incite some poor behavior and you are going to have to cope with that. In a private security team you may also have to deal with fellow comrades exasperating that cituation if they are being too harsh with their wording / mannerisms. You are going to have to cope with that too. Planning in a team like that is essential. Making sure others understand you are not going to be there for them now or lie for them afterwards if they go Rambo / rogue is a must. I had a church member needlessly insert himself aggressively into a domestic argument once thinking that because I carried I would help him if he got in too deep. I took him aside and asked what he thought he was doing and he said, “You’ve got my back right? I mean, you are carrying?”. I explained my gun was there to end really bad situations by killing WHOEVER was getting out of control and threatening the lives of others or preferably just myself. Not just for waving around and telling people to cool off. I explained if he was the aggressor or instigating aggression in others there was nothing I could do to help him and that he wasn’t helping anyone with his behavior. He approached the situation differently after that, though he didn’t talk to me for awhile. Lol! Frankly, I would rather be alone than in an untrained security group. You have to make sure everyone is on the same level headed, legally minded page before any good is going to come of your groups actions.

  • James Maute February 22, 2017, 9:36 am

    My only negative comment would be to ask why, if it was illegal to carry in church why did the security team wait till the end of the service to approach the man? I believe it would have been much safer to ask the man to step into another room as you needed to speak with him. The other people would have been seated and not have been in the line of fire if things went bad. The parking lot would also have been empty at the time he was asked to leave. Am I missing something? This was an excellent scenario for a round table discussion for any church security team to go over. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • Jay Hammond February 24, 2017, 8:52 am

      My thoughts exactly. If your gut tells you something is wrong, listen to it. Don’t wait until later and put someone in danger. If you are wrong, no big deal. When first noticed, you understood that he probably didn’t have permission to carry in that church (a totally stupid law, might I add). A simple, friendly conversation up front may have stopped all of the antics outside at the end – which could have been much worse. And you would have maybe enjoyed church instead of worrying about the guy in front. If I were the person with the gun, and meant no harm, I would welcome a nice conversation about gun laws, what I’m carrying, etc. A decent, responsible gun owner would have probably agreed to take the gun back out to the car or leave.

    • mongo February 25, 2017, 9:58 am

      First, I think it is very important for all church goers, but especially the security team, to pray for divine protection from God before the service begins. With authority, claim His protection, call upon the mighty angels to be active in combating evil, whether in body or mind, for all those attending. Let Holy Spirit fight the spiritual battles, which may deter physical ones from forming. Protective prayer needs to be active all throughout the service, especially when an attendee sets off our “bad vibe” sensor.
      Since there was a person from the security team sitting behind him, I don’t totally agree that trying to confront the man before the service began would have been the wisest thing to do. too many unknown variables, and that may have actually made the situation worse. His mindset may already be in turmoil, I’d lean toward letting God heal the man throughout the service. If you choose to make contact with the person before the service, guide the conversation toward the person receiving a kind word from you. “I feel in my spirit that you are upset about something, and you are seeking a word from God, is there anything I can pray for you about?” We need to let our environment guide our talk, and since we are in church, what better way to do that than to invoke Holy Spirit, God, and our desire to help our fellow man with prayer.
      It may also be wise for the security team to practice discretion when needing to address issues in church. Meaning, it is usually safer to get the person toward the door before anything is done or said. A casual conversation on the way out can go a long way from embarrassing them in front of others, and when you do get to the point you are trying to make, it would most likely be received in a better way.
      Stay prayed up, stay armed, stay aware, stay safe.

      • duckgitter March 3, 2017, 8:35 am

        Best comment I’ve read so far.

  • Will Drider February 20, 2017, 9:19 pm

    None of the three scenarios, in any order; would cause me to draw. Since he was asked to depart (and complied) but told he was welcome to visit again without the gun, there is no grounds for armed trespass. The call to LE would only be informational unless after the fact a citizens complaint is desired. It could be said the Mr Trenchcoat truely didn’t know the law and limits of his CWP and acted rather immature and bazaar but he was never presented a justifiable threat. IMHO

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