Pinchas Levin,

When I moved to San Antonio and became responsible for security at my synagogue, I discovered that a dozen men were carrying (it’s Texas, after all). I interviewed them to determine their level of competence and learned that most hadn’t fired their gun in years, couldn’t specify their make, model or caliber, and likely could not have picked them from a police lineup. Imagine the mayhem that would result in a crowded room if a dozen unskilled shooters decided to shoot at a perpetrator. Could they hit their target at all, let alone with adrenaline pumping? Would they be aware of what’s behind their target or how many walls their rounds would penetrate – both within and outside the building?

Defensive shooting in a public space requires extensive mental and practical preparation – study, practice, previewing and situational awareness, not to mention an understanding of local and state laws. I promptly posted a “guns prohibited” sign on the building’s front door (called an “Ordinance 30.06” sign in Texas) and then tried to find a few IDF or US veterans who could pass the US Marshal Service Course of Fire – a simple shooting skills test used at another Orthodox synagogue in town. Unfortunately, after more than a year, I’m still the only person who has passed it, although it’s quite basic. I finally requested that one IDF Infantry vet and one US Paratrooper vet, both combat-seasoned (although some years ago) carry during all congregation events. Guns are left in a safe in the synagogue prior to Sabbath to avoid prohibited carrying.

For public schools, a more practical approach would perhaps be to limit access to the building, deploy metal detectors, silent alarms and skilled defensive shooters at school entrances and exits; and very importantly, to indemnify them and their institutions against corollary injury or death. Speaking of which, publicly funded liability insurance programs should be made available to both schools and religious institutions to cover them in the event of a defensive shooting. After I  discussed this issue with security staff at several local churches and synagogues,  we all examined our insurance policies and found that our policies protect nobody besides the insurance company – a major risk to all of us.

Re silent alarms: I have received halachic permission to issue small pager buttons, mostly to women who tend to children in the foyer and hallways, that sound a soft chime in my talit bag in the event of a perceived threat or emergency (perkuach ha nefesh – to save a life – but consult your own rabbi.)