One of the church’s most sacred duties is to provide the community with a safe place to gather and practice their faith. To that end, many churches are choosing to make armed security personnel a part of their security plan.
In light of recent incidents, such as the massacres in Charleston, South Carolina, and Sutherland Springs, Texas, many churches realize that they need to take proactive measures to keep their congregation safe. However, those measures must observe all applicable state and federal laws. After all, the last thing you want to do is open up your ministry to civil or criminal liability.
In this article, we’re going to briefly discuss why your church might consider having armed security personnel as a part of your overall security environment. Then, we will discuss gun laws in Maryland and how you can ensure compliance with those laws.
Should My Church Have Armed Security?
We are blessed to live in a society that gives us access to emergency services, but response times can be too slow to prevent unnecessary injury or death. For example, in Prince George’s County, police response times for emergency calls ranged from 7 to 12 minutes in May 2021. The Sutherland Springs massacre, which killed 26 people and wounded 22 others, lasted only 11 minutes. In the event of a physical attack on your congregation, every second counts.
Even though active shooter incidents are relatively rare, the aftermath can be devastating. As a result, many churches choose to maintain a security program that gives them an immediate and effective response to any threat and gives them the best chance at achieving the most favorable outcome.
However, having armed security personnel comes with a complicated legal landscape, and protecting your congregation shouldn’t come with legal consequences. Next, we’re going to talk about how Maryland firearm laws affect armed church security guards.
Obtaining a Maryland Wear & Carry Permit
If you want to arm your security team members, they first will need to obtain a Maryland Wear & Carry Permit. Maryland is a “May Issue” state, which means that residents who want this permit must have a “good and substantial reason” to wear, carry, or transport a handgun, such as finding that the license is necessary as a reasonable precaution against danger.
Thankfully, all applicants employed as security guards can get a permit (assuming they are otherwise qualified) by providing a letter from the employing agency and their firearms qualification score sheet obtained from a Maryland State Police Certified Handgun Instructor. Here is a sample letter you can use to request a permit for one of your employees. They will need to submit this letter with their application.
Handgun Training Course
Applicants for a Maryland Wear & Carry Permit must complete a 16-hour firearms training course that consists of instruction in firearms law, handgun operation and mechanisms, firearm safety in the home, and shooting 25 rounds from a distance of 15 yards with 70% accuracy. This training requirement is reduced to 8 hours for those renewing their permit.
Additional Requirements for Obtaining a Permit
Applicants seeking a permit must also:
- Be at least 21 years old.
- Have not been convicted of a felony or a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year.
- Have not been committed to a juvenile detention center for longer than one year in the previous ten years.
- Not be an alcoholic or addict nor ever been convicted of an offense that involves the possession or distribution of a controlled substance.
- Not be prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm.
Renewing a Maryland Handgun Permit
In addition to acquiring the permit, your armed security team will also need to renew their permits to continue legally carrying a handgun regularly.
A new or initial permit expires two years after it was issued in the month that the permit holder was born. After the first renewal, it is valid for three years. Renewal applicants will need to take an 8-hour firearms training course within two years after filing their renewal applications.
Notably, the licensing division does not send renewal notices, so it is up to permit holders to remember to renew their permits.
Additional Tips for Maintaining an Armed Church Security Team
Now that we’ve outlined how you can obtain a Maryland handgun permit for your security team members let’s go over a few additional tips for ensuring compliance with Maryland law.
Maintain Proper Documentation
You should have your church security team members adequately documented, including maintaining a photocopy of their state-issued firearm permit on file. This documentation ensures your personnel have valid, current licenses and are carrying their firearms in compliance with the law.
You should also document your armed church security policies, including liability waivers, and keep signed acknowledgments from your security staff that they received and reviewed these policies.
Provide Additional Training
While Maryland law doesn’t require additional training outside of what is necessary to obtain or renew a permit, it is a good idea to provide continuing firearm training to your security personnel. Annual firearm safety and proficiency training will help ensure that your ministerial security team makes your church safer.
Consider Hiring a Security Firm
If applying for handgun permits, maintaining records, vetting your security personnel, and providing firearm safety and proficiency training is too much of a headache, consider partnering with a security services company to provide your armed security team.
The advantage of working with a security firm is that they handle the vast majority of the logistics involved with maintaining armed security personnel, giving you access to qualified and experienced security guards. Here at SMART Security Pros, we primarily hire ex-military and prior police security guards to provide our clients with the most skilled security professionals in the industry.
If you have any additional questions about having an armed security team at your church, or if you want further information about how to comply with Maryland firearm laws, don’t hesitate to get in touch. As one of the top security firms in Maryland, we’re passionate about providing our community leaders with expert security services and advice.