Texas church shooting and Hanukkah stabbing spur calls for increased security

A shooting at a church in Texas and a stabbing at a rabbi’s home during a Hanukkah celebration in New York during the weekend have renewed calls for increased security and the right to be armed in places of worship.

A gunman killed two people before a volunteer armed security team shot and killed him in the church near Fort Worth on Sunday and Texas politicians praised a recent law that allowed the members to carry guns in places of worship.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, praised the state’s gun law that allows licensed handgun holders to carry weapons in houses of worship unless the facility bans them. The law was passed following the killing of 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs in 2017 and took effect in September.

On Monday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said on Fox News that had that law not been passed, “I fear that we could have lost, you know, hundreds” in Sunday’s shooting.

Paxton, a Republican, said he hoped other states would pass similar measures.

“I think they'll end up saving lives for years and years and years,” he said.

Jack Wilson, a member of the volunteer security team at the church, said he was concerned about the appearance of the shooter from the moment he came in wearing a wig and a fake beard.

"Most of the members there didn’t feel like it would happen, but we were prepared if it did, and, you know, had we not had the security team in place, it would’ve been much, in my opinion, probably a much more severe outcome than what happened," he said.

In New York, five people were stabbed at a rabbi’s home over the weekend during a Hanukkah celebration in an attack Gov. Andrew Cuomo called “domestic terrorism.” Cuomo directed state police to increase patrols in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods across the state.

Four Jewish elected officials in New York asked the governor to go a step further Sunday, calling for him to declare a state of emergency and to deploy the National Guard to "visibly patrol and protect" Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods.

On Monday, Rockland County officials said a private security company would help municipal law enforcement to patrol the community.

Patrick Brosnan, of Brosnan Risk Consultants, praised the congregants who fought back in the stabbing.

“You have to look this evil in the face,” he said. "You have to step up. There’s not enough law enforcement out there.”

Carl Chinn, founder of the Faith Based Security Network, a nonprofit that offers safety guidance to faith communities said the incidents showed the importance of volunteer security teams at places of worship in a time of increased attacks.

Chinn said he is aware of more than 1,000 volunteer-run security teams in houses of worship in the United States.

Image: New York Police officers stand guard ahead of a gathering at Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza for the victims of a machete attack at a Hannukah celebration the day before in Monsey, N.Y., on Dec. 29, 2019.

“If I could say one thing to churches, it is this — have an intentional program,” he said.

Paxton said at a news conference Monday afternoon that while he had not talked to Wilson, "my understanding, he was a reserve deputy and had significant training, had his own shooting range and taught other people how to shoot, had taught many people in this church how to be prepared."

The Hood County Sheriff's Office confirmed to NBC News that Wilson was a reserve with their office in the late 1980s and the early 1990s.

Chinn said he was traveling to Texas to meet with people involved at the church.

“My biggest plan right now is to listen to them, to hear what they need,” he said. “I’m going to hear from them and just stand with them.”

“There are endless lessons learned in all of this, we’re trying to capture those in such a way they can help others perform this task better,” he said.

Laura Cutilletta, the managing director of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said the problem with allowing easier access to guns in places of worship and armed congregants is “that type of solution is very short-sighted.”

“If we didn’t have so many guns so readily available, we wouldn’t even have this problem in the first place,” she said. “Though it’s very fortunate people’s lives were saved in these instances, 100 people die every single day in America by gun violence and that is the highest gun death rate of any high-income country.”

Cutilletta said data show states with the strongest gun control laws have the lowest gun death rates.

She said such laws include requiring background checks for every gun sale, regulation of gun dealers, requiring permits to purchase a gun and laws requiring guns be locked and safeguarded in one’s home.

“There are laws you can see a correlation between having the law and the number of people being killed in the state,” she said.

In response to the shooting, Fred Guttenberg, an activist whose daughter was killed in the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, said “Easy access to guns does NOT make us safer.”

“Easy access to guns only ensures that those who are determined to kill will have the means to kill as many as possible,” he wrote on Twitter.

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Moments from scene of Texas church shooting
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Moments from scene of Texas church shooting
An elderly couple walks from West Freeway Church of Christ hours after a fatal shooting at the church, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in White Settlement, Texas. The couple declined to comment to reporters. (AP Photo/David Kent)
An FBI agent stands outside West Freeway Church of Christ as authorities continue to investigate a fatal shooting at the church, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in White Settlement, Texas. (AP Photo/David Kent)
Texas Department of Public Safety regional director Jeff Williams speaks during a news conference, as Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn, left, and White Settlement Police Chief J.P. Bevering, right, stand behind him, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in front of West Freeway Church of Christ, in White Settlement, Texas. Police say congregants shot and killed a man who opened fire at the church. (AP Photo/David Kent)
TEXAS shaded relief map, highlighted, with AUSTIN (capital) and WHITE SETTLEMENT locators, with SHOOTING lettering, finished graphic
Law enforcement vehicles are seen parked outside West Freeway Church of Christ as authorities continue to investigate a fatal shooting at the church, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in White Settlement, Texas. (AP Photo/David Kent)
Police and fire department officials surround a scene of a shooting Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas. (Yffy Yossifor/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Residents embrace near police and fire vehicles that surround a scene of a shooting Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas. (Yffy Yossifor/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Dan Patrick, lieutenant governor of Texas, talks with Senior Minister Britt Farmer at the scene of a shooting Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas. (Yffy Yossifor/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
WHITE SETTLEMENT, TX - DECEMBER 29: Law enforcement and the media work outside the West Freeway Church of Christ after a shooting took place during services on December 29, 2019 in White Settlement, Texas. The gunman was killed by armed members of the church after he opened fire during Sunday services. According to reports, a security guard was killed by the assailant and one other person has life-threatening injuries. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images)
WHITE SETTLEMENT, TX - DECEMBER 29: Dannetta Maldonado (left) helps Diana Richardson as she is pushed by her husband John Richardson after a shooting took place during services at West Freeway Church of Christ on December 29, 2019 in White Settlement, Texas. The Richardsons are church members who attended the service. The gunman was killed by armed members of the church after he opened fire during Sunday services. According to reports, a security guard was killed by the assailant and one other person has life-threatening injuries. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images)
WHITE SETTLEMENT, TX - DECEMBER 29: An FBI agent works the scene after a shooting took place during services at West Freeway Church of Christ on December 29, 2019 in White Settlement, Texas. The gunman was killed by armed members of the church after he opened fire during Sunday services. According to reports, a security guard was killed by the assailant and one other person has life-threatening injuries. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images)
WHITE SETTLEMENT, TX - DECEMBER 29: Authorities work the scene after a shooting took place during services at West Freeway Church of Christ on December 29, 2019 in White Settlement, Texas. The gunman was killed by armed members of the church after he opened fire during Sunday services. According to reports, a security guard was killed by the assailant and one other person has life-threatening injuries. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images)
WHITE SETTLEMENT, TX - DECEMBER 29: Law enforcement vehicles are parked outside West Freeway Church of Christ where a shooting took place at the morning service on December 29, 2019 in White Settlement, Texas. The gunman was killed by armed members of the church after he opened fire during Sunday services. According to reports, a security guard was killed by the gunman. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images)
WHITE SETTLEMENT, TX - DECEMBER 29: Authorities work the scene outside the front door of West Freeway Church of Christ after a shooting took place during services on December 29, 2019 in White Settlement, Texas. The gunman was killed by armed members of the church after he opened fire during Sunday services. According to reports, a security guard was killed by the assailant and one other person has life-threatening injuries. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images)
WHITE SETTLEMENT, TX - DECEMBER 29: Melanie Davis speaks to the media after a gunman opened fire during morning service at West Freeway Church of Christ on December 29, 2019 in White Settlement, Texas. Davis's mother was sitting next to the gunman inside. The gunman was killed by armed members of the church after he opened fire during Sunday services. According to reports, a security guard was killed by the assailant and one other person has life-threatening injuries. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images)
WHITE SETTLEMENT, TX - DECEMBER 29: Authorities work the scene in the street in front of West Freeway Church of Christ after a shooting took place during services on December 29, 2019 in White Settlement, Texas. The gunman was killed by armed members of the church after he opened fire during Sunday services. According to reports, a security guard was killed by the assailant and one other person has life-threatening injuries. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images)
WHITE SETTLEMENT, TX - DECEMBER 29: Jeff Williams, regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, gives an update on the situation after a shooting at West Freeway Church of Christ on December 29, 2019 in White Settlement, Texas. The gunman was killed by armed members of the church after he opened fire during Sunday services. According to reports, a security guard was killed by the gunman. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images)
WHITE SETTLEMENT, TX - DECEMBER 29: Matthew DeSarno with the FBI in Dallas, gives an update on the situation after a shooting at West Freeway Church of Christ on December 29, 2019 in White Settlement, Texas. The gunman was killed by armed members of the church after he opened fire during Sunday services. According to reports, a security guard was killed by the gunman. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images)
WHITE SETTLEMENT, TX - DECEMBER 29: Dannetta Maldonado speaks to the media while waiting for her parents who are church members after a shooting at West Freeway Church of Christ on December 29, 2019 in White Settlement, Texas. The gunman was killed by armed members of the church after he opened fire during Sunday services. According to reports, a security guard was killed by the gunman. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images)
WHITE SETTLEMENT, TX - DECEMBER 29: Chief J.P. Bevering of the White Settlement Police Department, gives an update on the situation after a shooting at West Freeway Church of Christ on December 29, 2019 in White Settlement, Texas. The gunman was killed by armed members of the church after he opened fire during Sunday services. According to reports, a security guard was killed by the gunman. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images)
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Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, wrote on Twitter that if “more guns and fewer gun laws made Texas safer, it would be the safest state in the U.S.”

“Instead, it has high rates of gun suicide and homicide, and is home to 4 of the 10 deadliest mass shootings,” she wrote.

“Over 3,000 people per year are killed with guns in Texas, and rather than reciting gun lobby talking points, our elected officials should do something about it," Hilary Rand Whitfield, volunteer chapter leader with the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said in a statement.

"Across Texas, there is support for common-sense policies like background checks on all gun sales and a Red Flag law, and if our public officials won’t take action, we should replace them with leaders who will," she said.

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