Volunteer Armed Church Security Force
Can a group of CWFL holders can join together to act as organized, volunteer armed church security force, even if uncompensated? Can a CWFL holder even carry a weapon at a church or other religious institution?
There is NO law in Florida prohibiting the carry of a firearm at a church or other religious institution. Generally, a CWFL holder can carry concealed at a place of worship in this state. However, there are some common exceptions at many religious institutions.
Property of a School
If the church has a school or day care, it is currently illegal to carry on the property. Florida Statute §790.115 defines schools to include preschools. A child care facility includes any child care center or child care arrangement which provides child care for more than five children unrelated to the operator and which receives a payment, fee, or grant for any of the children receiving care, wherever operated, whether or not operated for profit. Florida Statute §402.302(2). See also Fl. Ad. Code §65C-22.
Therefore, if your church has a school, daycare or child care facility with more than five children and receives payment or a grant for the children attending, you cannot carry a firearm to church services. This applies even if the school is not in the same building as the services you are attending. It also still applies even if the school is closed on the day you are attending services.
Change may come
Currently, there is a new bill pending in the Florida Legislature. Senate Bill 598 was introduced at the end of January. If passed into law, this bill would authorize a CWFL (Concealed Weapons and Firearms License) holders to carry his/her firearm onto the property of a religious institution EVEN IF there was a school on the property. Read our post on this bill here.
Volunteer Armed Church Security Force
Assuming that congregants can carry on the property of their church then we can discuss whether or not a church can allow congregants to act as an organized, volunteer, armed church security force. This is a complicated issue, which there is much disagreement over. Due to the large number of shootings occurring at churches and other religious institutions, many churches have established security forces made up of volunteers from their congregation. Although as stated above, there is no prohibition from carry at church, having CWFL holders organize and act as security for the church may not be the best course of action.
Is It Illegal?
Volunteer armed church security forces may be illegal and can lead to both civil and criminal actions. The issue here is not whether an individual may conceal carry at church for his or her own protection. The issue is whether or not a group of CWFL holders may organize themselves, or be organized by the institution, to act as a private security company to provide security services to a church without being properly licensed even if uncompensated.
When a statute is not clear in its meaning, the court looks to the intent of the legislature to decide what was intended. When it comes to licensing security guards the legislature wrote:
493.6100 Legislative Intent. – The Legislature recognizes that the private security, investigative, and recovery industries are rapidly expanding fields that require regulation to ensure that the interests of the public will be adequately served and protected. The Legislature recognizes that untrained persons, unlicensed persons or businesses, or persons who are not of good moral character engaged in the private security, investigative, and recovery industries are a threat to the welfare of the public if placed in positions of trust. Regulation of licensed and unlicensed persons and businesses engaged in these fields is therefore deemed necessary.
What is the Legislature’s Intent?
Here, the legislature clearly makes known its intent to regulate anyone providing security services. This clearly includes whether or not they have a security license. Further, this statement says nothing about regulating only paid (compensated) security services. Based on this statement of legislative intent, a judge might determine that the unlicensed provision of security services even by volunteers is forbidden. Alternatively, a judge could look at the statute and say that if the legislature had intended to regulate unpaid voluntary security, they would have explicitly said so.
What about Civil Implications?
Currently, there are no reported cases dealing with volunteer armed church security forces, so caution is recommended. Further, if CWFL holders are organized and operating with church knowledge and permission, or at the church’s request and organization, the church is opening itself up to potential civil liability if something goes wrong and an innocent person is shot by one of these security force members, or if a member of the “security force” uses excessive force.