The United States Concealed Carry Association (USCCA) announced on Thursday its latest online training event would focus on protecting houses of worship.
The group, which sells firearms training and concealed carry insurance, said the recent anti-Semitic attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead and 5 wounded is the kind of attack the training series is designed to defend against.
"On behalf of the more than 250,000 members of the USCCA we mourn for the victims, their families and the City of Pittsburgh," Tim Schmidt, president of the USCCA, said. "They are all in our prayers. Sadly, this latest shooting is a reminder that too many lives have been lost because murderous maniacs know that our places of worship are soft targets where those inside often don’t have the ability to protect themselves."
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The series will debut on the company's website on Monday at 7 p.m. CST. It will feature trainers from USCCA leading students through scenarios with specialized equipment like "stress vests" and simulated UTM ammunition. The company said the training sessions will cover "what to do when there is an active shooter in your church, what you can do to prepare, where your security team members should sit, tips on deadly force decision making, and the proper size of a house of worship security team."
The video series will be followed by a live training event on Nov. 12 that will be broadcast across the company's YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. Schmidt said the series will be available free of charge and is intended to educate the public and encourage more people to carry a firearm for self-defense.
"In countless situations across this country, concealed-carry permit holders have been the front lines of defense against evildoers because they have the necessary knowledge, training and experience to protect those around them," Schmidt said. "As a society, we should be having an important conversation about whether we are truly doing everything possible to protect ourselves and those around us. This new training offered by the USCCA will hopefully provide life-saving advice for anyone who has to confront an active shooter situation."
The Pittsburgh attack reignited the debate over how to respond to mass shootings and other violent attacks at vulnerable places like houses of worship or schools. In the aftermath of the attack, President Trump said "results could have been much better" if somebody at the synagogue had been armed. Schmidt said he agreed with the president's sentiment. Gun-control activists took the opposite approach, saying Americans shouldn't feel the need to be armed when they go to worship and warning that armed civilians could cause more harm than good.
Bill Peduto, Pittsburgh's mayor and member of the gun-control group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said rather than arming worshipers, Americans should focus on instituting new gun-control laws.
"We shouldn’t be trying to find ways to minimize the dangers that occur from irrational behavior," Peduto said at a press conference this week. "We should be working to eliminate irrational behavior and the empowerment of people who would seek to cause this type of carnage from continuing. I think the approach that we need to be looking at is how we take the guns, which is the common denominator of every mass shooting in America, out of the hands of those who are looking to express hatred through murder."
Schmidt said he understood the desire to feel like being armed isn't necessary but considered it unrealistic.
"I can certainly understand why someone would be like, ‘Well, we shouldn't have to have guns to defend ourselves,'" Schmidt told the Washington Free Beacon. "To me, that's kind of Pollyanna thinking. There's always going to be evil in the world and you can either be prepared for it or not. It's kind of like, ‘Well, we shouldn't have to have fire extinguishers. There should be no evil things in the world.' Well, that's just not the case."
He said responsibly armed Americans do more good than armed criminals do harm because surveys have consistently found defensive uses of firearms outnumber criminal uses. In 2013, the CDC found defensive gun uses ranged somewhere between 500,000 incidents per year and 3 million while criminal uses were estimated at around 300,000.
Schmidt also said it comes down to people being able to protect themselves and their families.
"If you're in a dark parking lot with your family and you have the option to be well trained and know what to do with your firearm or be defenseless," he said, "what would you pick? What would you pick for the safety of your family?"
He said the goal of training worshipers in how to handle an active shooter is about helping them be prepared for potential threats, which the attack in Pittsburgh proved are all too real.
"From my perspective, I don't want people to be paranoid," Schmidt told the Free Beacon. "I want them to be prepared. Preparation and paranoia are not the same thing."