An Interview with Emanuel Kapelsohn
by Gila Hayes
Frequently a Network member or an armed citizen who is interested in becoming a Network member asks if we would assist a member who uses force in defense of their church, temple, or synagogue – their house of worship. So long as the member serves in an entirely volunteer capacity, our assistance encompasses volunteering on the church safety team, as well as after self defense in their private lives. Of course, our member education efforts are equally applicable to a member defending himself, herself, a loved one or their fellow worshipers. Network Advisory Board member and attorney Emanuel Kapelsohn, who is very active in organizing and training church defense teams, has agreed to help us better understand the responsibilities and concerns arising when armed congregants organize to look out for the safety of their fellow worshipers.
eJournal: Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us, Manny. Please tell us a little about your background.
Kapelsohn: Thank you, Gila. I’m in my early 70s. Many, many years ago, I got an undergraduate degree with honors from Yale University and a law degree from Harvard Law School. I’ve practiced law on and off since 1978. I’ve been a police firearms instructor and a defensive firearms instructor for 45 years now. Along the way, I became an expert witness in court cases that involved firearms, use of force, crimes committed with weapons, self-defense cases, and products liability cases involving guns and holsters and related products. I’ve been an expert witness for 39 years now in state and federal courts all across the country. I’m also a reserve deputy sheriff, an armed sworn position I’ve done for 27 years in two sheriff’s departments in the two states that I’ve lived in.
In more recent years, I’ve spent a lot of time helping to develop, organize, train, and supervise armed congregant security teams for houses of worship. I’ve done that for several churches, one large synagogue, a faith-based community center, a private school, and some others. For about the last 5-6 years, I’ve been involved in not only actually training but working on the armed security team for a large church near us almost every Sunday morning and some holidays, as well.
eJournal: That’s exactly the kind of from-the-ground-up experience we want to learn from. I am sure it entails a lot more than standing guard outside the front door. How extensive are your responsibilities?
Kapelsohn: In order to preserve the anonymity of the church, I’ll refer to it as Good Church; that’s not its real name. On a typical Sunday morning there will be 2,200 to 2,500 people coming for one or another of the services at 8, 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. We have daycare and Sunday school activities for everyone up through high school age and Bible study classes for adults. Our armed congregant security team is about 35 in number and our goal is to have at least five team members there at all times, so it isn’t necessarily one person who’s there from 8 a.m. until 12:30. In addition, we also have a medical team of people who are paramedics or EMTs or have some other advanced medical training. The armed security team members have first aid training – tourniquets and CPR and such. It’s quite a good, extensive program.
eJournal: There was a time when people might argue that armed defense was unnecessary or even be appalled that anyone would carry a gun to a house of worship. That is changing.
Kapelsohn: I think we’re all familiar with the active killer problem that exists. Some people who work in this field object to it being called active shooter because sometimes it’s someone with a knife not a gun and some of the highest body count events in history were not committed with guns. They were committed with gasoline or dynamite, or a vehicle driven through a crowd. It’s not always a shooter. The problem exists not only in the United States but in countries all around the world. There have been mass killing events everywhere from Russia to Canada to Japan to China. In a house of worship today it doesn’t make sense to me not to have armed security because houses of worship are targets.
A problem common to all active killer events is that they are usually over very quickly. From start to finish, it is not uncommon for them to be over in 5-7 minutes. Studies by the FBI and the Secret Service, indicate that in the United States about 50% of the time, it is over before the first police officer arrives on the scene. I’ve spoken to boards of directors, trustees or clergy groups of congregations who say, “Well, we’ve got a plan. We’re going to call 9-1-1.” The police expression is, “9-1-1: when seconds count, help is only minutes away.”
In many of these events, 3-4 minutes go by before the first call goes in to 9-1-1. You have to understand: when someone starts shooting in a public place, whether that’s a church or a synagogue, a school, shopping center, office building or a movie theater, calling 9-1-1 is not the first thing people do. People duck, run for cover, get under their seat in the theater or whatever and it’s not until a few minutes later that the first call goes into 9-1-1. Then, the dispatcher has to take that call and dispatch police. The police have to get to the location and if it’s a large venue – perhaps a school with several stories and dozens of classrooms or an office building – the police have to find their way in to where the problem is occurring. Often by then, the problem is over because the person has either run out of ammunition, killed themselves, fled the scene or killed as many people as they intended to kill.
Ron Borsch, a friend of mine who is the single most knowledgeable person that I know about active killer events in the United States and perhaps the world, calls this timeline the “Stopwatch of Death.” The point he’s making is that every second that goes by – not just minutes, but each second! – more people may be killed. You have to have an approach that isn’t just, “We’ll call 9-1-1 and wait for the police to arrive.”
There are parts of the country where police are not as readily available as they are in others. We have suburban and urban areas where response time for police may be two or three minutes on a good day when there’s not much going on. When I lived in rural Indiana, response time by the sheriff’s department might be 20 minutes if the deputies who were on duty were over on the far side of the county. That’s with lights and sirens and no traffic to speak of. There are a lot of parts of the country where the police response is further away than that.
I think it behooves a congregation to have some planning and some armed security. The incidents that have been stopped right when they started or maybe after just one or two people unfortunately have been killed, have been stopped by people who are already there on the scene, whether that’s a school resource officer in the local school or an armed or unarmed individual. A significant number of active killer events are stopped by unarmed civilians, non-police who tackle the person or hit the shooter with the chair or do whatever they can to intervene.
We have to understand that the goal of armed security in the house of worship is not to replace the police. It’s not to deal with someone who’s got their car double parked or even someone who’s being a bit disruptive in a service. Call the police to evict a trespasser or to deal with someone who’s intoxicated or under the influence of drugs and needs to be removed, that’s a police function and so is protection of mere property as opposed to protection of life.
The duties of your security team, or at Good Church we call it the Safe Team, may not only be response to an armed attacker, but it may also be providing first aid. They should certainly be trained in things like CPR and regular first aid functions, treatment for shock and stopping massive bleeding whether that’s with tourniquets or Israeli bandages or Quick Clot combat gauze. Whatever the system is, they should be trained in it.
The security team may also be trained to help evacuate the building in the event of a fire or perhaps a bomb threat and many other things that are beyond our subject today. The security team may do things as mundane as looking for a lost child. At Good Church we’ve had a number of instances where the child gets separated from the parents and the parents are looking for the child or the child is looking for the parents. [Smiling] Sometimes the parents don’t even know their child is lost yet. The security team helps in that regard, so there are many, many functions the team can serve.
eJournal: It is hard to oppose a team that’s helping lost children or giving first aid! If starting a safe team, who most needs to support the concept?
Kapelsohn: The clergy must buy into having an armed security team. If the clergy isn’t for it, it’s not going to work. In some congregations, depending on their size and the makeup of the congregation, the congregation may need to buy in to it, as well. I’ve been a member of congregations that have thousands of members and I’ve been a member of what are called family churches. In my case, I was a member of a family church where the typical turnout for Sunday morning services might be 15 or 20 people.
eJournal: Size has to affect how safety is addressed, too.
Kapelsohn: It’s just like the difference between fielding a varsity football team in a Big Ten school that has 40,000 students and having a football team in a small school that has 100 or 200 students. You’re not going to have the same kind of football team. I work with some police departments that have 11 or 12 officers. Well, that’s not a department that can have a SWAT team. There aren’t going to be enough people for a tactical team. In the same way, the nature of the armed security provisions will naturally depend on the size and the makeup of the congregation.
In a large congregation like Good Church, you can have an armed congregant team. You can have a large enough armed congregant team that you have different people coming to different services or different weekends during the month. Of course, you want people also to be able to go to the services to participate in worshiping, not just be there for a security function, so it’s common at Good Church for someone who’s on the Safe Team to come for two services. During one service, they are assigned to a security post and the other service they’re participating in worship.
In a family church where you might only have 12, 15 or 20 people on a typical Sunday morning, it might just be a number of congregants who carry guns. They have concealed carry permits and you provide them with training about the law, about appropriate responses to different situations, maybe first aid training and so forth. They’re just coming with their families, as they would to a normal worship service, but they are prepared to respond in an armed capacity if that terrible event comes.
eJournal: Volunteers sometimes wonder if they need an armed guard license and that’s affected by whether they’re considered employees compensated by free training, free equipment, and free ammunition. What regulations do church entities and safety volunteers need to consider?
Kapelsohn: That’s going to be a matter of state law and will vary from state to state, so there are fifty different formulas that I would not attempt to address here. If you’re thinking about having an armed congregant team, one of the preliminary considerations is whether it’s legal and what steps need to be taken to make it legal.
Is this a state where concealed carry permits are available and necessary for anyone carrying a gun concealed? Is it a so-called constitutional carry state where permits are no longer necessary? In some states where permits are no longer necessary, permits are still available to those who wish to apply. That may be a good thing for a security team, because the process of applying for and getting a permit means you’ve been put through a criminal history check by the police. That assures us that parishioner Smith who may have been a member of this congregation for 12 years and we all think we know him very well, doesn’t have a felony on his record from when he lived in a different state. There’s an advantage to getting concealed carry permits in places where they are available.
In some states, like my own home state of Pennsylvania, someone who is an employee as defined by law, who works in an armed capacity as a requirement of their job – such as an armed security guard or an armored car crew member or a bank guard or an armed private investigator – but are not law enforcement officers, must have certain state-required training and licensure. In PA, Act 235 requires a 40-hour course to work in an armed capacity unless you have previous law enforcement experience. It has to be renewed every five years. To the best of my understanding and legal judgment, someone who’s a member of a congregation, who is just carrying their gun and helping serve a security function on a purely volunteer basis is not an employee. They’re volunteering so they don’t need Act 235 licensing. I’m not trying to give legal advice here; I’m just trying to address the subject.
In some states, if that congregant gets any benefits from their job that might be considered compensation, that can make them an employee, not a volunteer. Depending on the state, that may change the situation. This needs to be considered.
Another preliminary consideration is insurance. Some insurance companies that issue insurance to houses of worship and other businesses will not cover that facility, operation, or activity if there are any armed protectors, whether they are an armed security guard service that has its own liability coverage or whether it’s armed congregants in a church, synagogue, or temple. I was involved in such a situation when the congregation I was part of wanted to have armed security guards. The insurance carrier said, “No, not with us you won’t! We won’t cover for that,” so we had to find another insurance carrier.
There are two very large insurance companies, one called Church Mutual and the other is Brotherhood Mutual, that cover, among other things, houses of worship. They will cover houses of worship with armed security, including armed congregant security. They want to know that you have a training program and about the setup of the program. After the insurance carrier said they would not cover us if we had the armed security guards, we found that with our armed security, another insurance company would provide us $1,000,000 more coverage at a lower annual premium. Some of these are excellent companies. I mentioned two; there are undoubtedly others, but those are two I know about.
One of the congregations I was affiliated with also required each member of the armed congregate team to have his or her own insurance or something that would provide financial support. You might say, “Well, why does the individual need it? The congregation’s liability coverage should cover.” Yes, it did, but they wanted to make sure that if, for some reason, the congregation’s insurance wouldn’t, the person would still have their own financial support. It was also a way of making sure that the members of the team bought in, just like we’re asking the clergy and the congregation to buy in. It’s a reality check – are you really serious? Do you understand that there are potential liability ramifications?
eJournal: Let’s pause to clarify that insurance coverage for liability from, perhaps missed shots for which the individual does bear responsibility, is different than Armed Citizens’ Network’s assistance which pays for the legal defense of our members but does not pay a judgment against a member. We get a lot of questions about paying for the legal defense of members who are volunteers at church, so let me add that we would count it a privilege to assist God’s people and make sure that their legal expenses were taken care of after defending the sanctuary.
Kapelsohn: Thanks for clarifying that. Sometimes people ask, “If I become a member of an armed security team, might I have some personal liability?” Well, of course you will. If it snows and you don’t shovel your front walk well enough and the UPS man slips and hurts his back, you’ve got liability. If you have a car accident, you’ve got potential liability. Whether ultimately you have liability or not is a secondary question; the first question is, “Can I be sued?” Of course, you can! People can sue you for virtually anything. If you carry a gun in your personal life, there’s a responsibility and a potential liability connected. Something like Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network is so important.
eJournal: Beyond the church’s insurance broker, who else needs to know about the armed safety team?
Kapelsohn: If you’re going to have an armed team, your local police should know so if they respond to an incident, they’re not surprised that there may be some congregants there, possibly even with drawn guns holding someone at gunpoint, who aren’t bad guys. The police need to know that! Good Church has a good relationship with our local police and district attorney’s office. Both gave the “thumbs up” to this program before it was started. The district attorney’s office sometimes teaches legal programs for one of the teams that I’m connected with. Coordination is important.
Other first responders need to know about armed security, too, whether that’s your local ambulance squad or fire department. If there is a mass casualty event, there are going to be first responders arriving. If you’ve got a large enough congregation and a large enough team, you may be thinking of having a training exercise – whether it’s a tabletop exercise or a meeting or two or a simulated event that involves your local ambulance crew or fire company.
eJournal: Let’s say we are starting an organized church security team. What should readers know about choosing team members?
Kapelsohn: I recently saw a suggestion that I thought was terrible, just a terrible way to select teams. “Just put a notice in your church newsletter saying we’re now accepting applications for armed security team members. Anybody who’s interested, please see so and so about it.” I think that’s just an awful way to do it!
First of all, you are announcing to the world that you have armed security. You may not want to announce that to the world! Everyone in the world may not be your friend. Whether that’s someone who’s a potential attacker or whether it’s an unfriendly voice in the local media, I don’t think you want to announce that publicly any more than you would publish an article in the paper telling the world, “Our building is now installing a burglar alarm system and here’s where the sensors are and here’s how it works.” That’s not information the world needs to know.
The other thing you may get is people applying that aren’t the people you want. I think there is a much better way. Hopefully, there are congregants that you know well and trust; people you think would be good assets for such a team. Ideally, if it’s going to be an armed team, they’d be people that already have some firearms knowledge. In Good Church’s large congregation, we have a number of team members who are retired police officers or state troopers. One is a judge. We have people with extensive prior military training, maybe even as military police, and people who are firefighters or EMTs. These are people who have experience dealing with critical incidents and stressful emergencies. They make good team members.
We recommend people from within our congregation. Someone on the team will say, “You know my friend Joe Smith who also attends our congregation? He and I go shooting together. He’s a great guy, a family man who has good religious values and he’s got some experience with firearms. I think he’d be a good member of the team.” There should be some leadership group, maybe that’s a member of the congregation’s clergy plus one or two members of the team, that evaluate a proposal to put a person on the team.
In two sizable congregations of which I’ve been a member, we have had an actual written application form. We ask the person to fill it out and provide information about themselves. That form then sometimes serves as the basis for an in-person interview. We may be interviewing someone that we know personally but haven’t addressed subjects like, “How does your spouse feel about you being on an armed congregant security team? Is this going to cause a problem in your family? Do you have the time to do this? Will you be able to devote time to X number of training sessions per year? Are you willing to pay for some equipment that you may need in addition to what the congregation provides to you?” Equipment is an issue that we’ll mention later.
It’s important that a member of your congregation’s clergy is on the committee that helps choose who’s proposed to be on the team. Sometimes the clergy will be privy to information that the rest of the congregation isn’t. This congregant may have come to them and told them that he or she has an alcohol or drug problem or who knows what the situation is? The clergy may just say to the leadership committee, “Well, I don’t think Joe Smith’s a good applicant right now. Maybe after a little while, but we need to let this wait. Let’s pass on him for the time being.”
eJournal: It’s a tough situation, particularly in the very small churches where denying a request to serve is a lot like telling a family member that he’s not good enough! That’s a really hard position to be in. Maybe it’s buffered a little bit in the larger Good Church. How does this scale to small congregations? Do small churches even perform formal background checks?
Kapelsohn: We do several things. In our state, a concealed carry permit is still required. It’s not a constitutional carry state, so the fact that someone has that CCW permit means that they have gone through a criminal background check conducted by law enforcement. We then require them to get the two childcare certifications that any teacher or daycare worker would have to have in order to work with children. One is a state certification, and one is a federal certification. Both are free for volunteer workers. The Safe Team gets a copy of the person’s concealed carry permit and the paperwork that shows they have passed the childcare certifications, that they have nothing negative in their history in that regard.
We interview the people. There are two standards, I think, that are useful. Years ago, I was a staff instructor at Gunsite, the American Pistol Institute. We taught defensive handgun, shotgun and rifle classes that typically started on a Monday morning and finished Saturday at noon with the man-on-man competition and scored standards drills. The people who went through that school could get one of several different certifications. The highest was expert. The standard that Colonel Cooper used for an expert rating was this: “Is this someone you would choose to have with you in a fight?” If the answer was, “No, I’d rather pick somebody else,” that person didn’t get an expert rating even if they came in first in the man-on-man competition, which after all is just competitive shooting, or if they came in first in the standards drills, which is marksmanship, speed, and accuracy. A lot is involved in wanting to have someone with you in a fight other than just how fast are they, how accurate are they, and can they win a competition? We’re talking about people who have to be levelheaded and have good judgment and able to handle stress well and so forth. Cooper’s standard was, “Is this someone you choose to have with you in a fight?”
Now I will give you our standard for the Safe Team at Good Church. “Is this someone to whom you would entrust the care of your children?” Hopefully, children are the person’s most precious possessions. You know people who you might think of as the world’s best gunslinger, if there is such a thing, but you’d not leave your kids with them. They’re not the kind of person you would entrust your children to in an emergency. Someone to whom you would entrust the care of your children and someone you would choose to have with you in a fight is levelheaded, trustworthy, has good judgment and is mature and even-tempered in all respects. If you combine those two, you have a standard which is, admittedly, very subjective, but that we can all understand.
eJournal: OK, so a candidate gets selected. Are you going to control what they carry? Are you going to tell them what kind of equipment or even apparel? Do you ask them to conceal their gun, not let it print? How strictly should we manage a volunteer?
Kapelsohn: Well, I can tell you what we do at Good Church. We don’t carry guns openly. I’m sure there are many members of the congregation, especially ones who are visitors or new members, who have no idea that anyone there is carrying a gun. We don’t have a dress code. You dress however is comfortable for you as someone attending services. I often wear a blazer because it’s the easy way for me to cover my gun and my radio and whatever else I’m carrying, and we have other people who just wear a sport shirt.
Greeters, ushers, building maintenance people and members of the Safe Team and medical team have name tags on lanyards around their necks. Our nameplates have just our first name; mine reads “Emanuel” and doesn’t have my last name on it. The nameplates are color-coded, so the Safe Team has a certain color nameplate. The world in general doesn’t know that code. Our nameplates also have magnetic codes that open certain locked doors in the facility – the door into the childcare area, our security communications center on the second floor, or the outer door. If you go outside and the door shuts behind you, you’re not locked out.
The Safe Team and medical team are issued radios or check out a radio from the communications center for their tour of duty. Our radios have ear buds, and the wire goes into your collar and so while it’s visible to someone who wants to look for it, it isn’t very obvious. We also issue armed security sashes and require people to carry them whenever they are there. These are the sashes made by DSM Safety Products – the initials stand for Don’t Shoot Me. It’s in a little pouch on your belt or in your pocket and when you deploy it, it’s a bright yellow or fluorescent green sash across your front and back. Ours say, “Security.” If you draw your gun, you are supposed to deploy your sash as soon as you can so that arriving police or other congregants who may be armed but not part of the Safe Team know that you have an official capacity, that you’re part of the security team.
We train our Safe Team in the use of pepper gel. We don’t require them to carry it, but we strongly encourage it as a less lethal option. We also give people hand to hand defensive tactics training on a periodic basis so whether they have the pepper gel or not, they do have means of using force other than deadly force. That is some of the equipment that people are required to carry or urged to carry, depending on what it is.
We have written policy that specifies the kinds of firearms that are acceptable to be carried. It specifies that you must qualify with the firearm you’re carrying not just a similar one, but the actual Glock or Smith & Wesson or Springfield or whatever it might be with that serial number. The ammunition you are carrying must be controlled expansion ammunition, not full metal jacket. If you should have to shoot someone, it’s more likely to be contained in the person you shoot and not pass through them and injure or kill someone else. People who are on the security team are prohibited from carrying other weapons which have not been approved and with which they have not been trained and qualified. In other words, they can’t just decide to carry an expandable baton or a TASER® or something that the team doesn’t train with and authorize.
eJournal: Do you mandate certain calibers?
Kapelsohn: Yes, we mandate a minimum of 9mm or .38 Special and within a certain range of calibers. We list approved manufacturers, and we say that if you want to carry a different model of gun by some other manufacturer you need to get it approved by the team leader or the head firearms instructor for the team. I had one member on a team that I trained and worked with who argued strenuously that he wanted to carry a certain kind of gun, “In case the active killer was wearing body armor this would go right through it.”
I said, “Yes and when you miss, it’ll go right through three congregants, too.” There is no good expanding ammunition made for this gun. He said, “Oh, but the Secret Service carries it!” I said, “Well, with all due respect, you’re not the Secret Service. Our function is different, and you can’t carry that here.” There are good reasons for the congregation to control what kind of weaponry people carry and to make sure that they’re trained and qualified.
eJournal: Manny, it is clear that there is a tremendous amount of detail that goes into selecting and equipping a team of volunteers to protect people who’ve come together to worship. We have not even touched on documenting their training and skill maintenance, whether they guard assigned positions or simply join the rest of the congregation in the pews during services, and one element that will be challenging for many, creation of a use of force policy. I don’t want to give short shrift to any of those topics – or other aspects of armed church security about which we should be alerted – so with your understanding, I would like to take a break and come back next month to those and related topics in our next edition.
Editor’s Note: Due to the valuable input Emanuel Kapelsohn contributed for members who serve their churches on volunteer security teams, we have also produced a video of this interview for Armed Citizens’ TV https://armedcitizenstv.org/ where it is available for learners who prefer the streaming video format. We believe the written format may be useful as an archived resource that can be shared with church leaders and management that may have questions about mitigating any perceived liability attached to approving formation of a volunteer armed security team. Please return next month for the second installment of this interview.