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Too often, evil can invade a place of sanctuary
Churches that are doing their jobs seem to affect people emotionally, but that can have unfortunate results.
One of the worst made itself apparent at a Wednesday night prayer meeting in downtown Charleston, S.C., where a gunman killed nine people and wounded at least one other.
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen described the attack, which occurred at a historic African American church, as a hate crime.
Among the dead was the pastor, Clemnta Pinckney, who was also a South Carolina state senator.
A 21-year-old white man who is suspected of the crime reportedly sat through an hour of the prayer service, then made racial comments before opening fire, reloading five times.
According to statistics assembled by church security expert Carl Chinn; there were 971 "deadly force incidents" at faith-based organizations in the United States from 1999 through early this year.
About 55 percent of them were based on domestic violence, personal conflict and robbery. Other causes were random, mental illness, gang, drugs and religious bias.
More than 57 percent of the incidents involved guns, 17 percent knives, 6 percent explosives and 4 percent autos.
Some 430 people were killed and 581 injured.
Chinn knows what he's talking about; he was building engineer for the ministry in Colorado when a gunman took hostages at the Focus on the Family headquarters in 1996.
He began working on church security issues and was one of the responders who engaged a killer at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs on Dec. 9, 2007.
The Violence Policy Center issued a report Wednesday, using FBI and Bureau of Justice data, that indicates there were 258 justifiable homicides involving civilians using firearms in 2012, compared to 8,342 murders by gun.
Very few civilians actually use guns as self-defense, the group claims, and guns are far more likely to be stolen, be used to commit suicide or cause an accidental death.
Gun rights groups such as the NRA and the Cato Institute, however, say there are many unreported incidents in which a would-be criminal flees when a civilian brandishes a gun in self-defense. Cato maintains a website with a map showing where a firearm has successfully stopped a crime.
We like to think that a church sanctuary can be just that -- a sanctuary from the problems of the world.
More and more, however, church officials have to think about the unthinkable and decide how to respond.