Special Report: Highly trained church members carry concealed guns

"We don't ever want to have to use it, but it's good to be trained to use it if it is necessary," said Guy Higashi, a Safety Team member.

Posted: Jul 5, 2018 8:48 PM
Updated: May 3, 2021 12:08 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- Could it happen here? That's a question many people ask themselves as another senseless and violent attack makes headlines. A mass shooting stealing innocent lives, and leaving the country outraged again.

Leaders of a local church said they're not taking any chances; a select few of its highly-trained Safety Team members carry concealed guns, just in case.

They say it's not about being for or against guns, it's about being prepared.

"Before I would think, especially being Christian, you think 'Why would you carry a firearm? God will protect you,'" said Guy Higashi, a Safety Team member at New Hope Eugene. "But, it's a different world right now."

In this world, they're taking safety into their own hands by learning how to deal with a violent and armed intruder within the walls of a church. 

"We don't ever want to have to use it, but it's good to be trained to use it if it is necessary," said Higashi.

Higashi and other hand-selected members of New Hope Eugene's Safety Team took a firearms class that's customized for church safety teams. It's taught by Donnie Myers, who owns 295 Tactical in Springfield.

Myers is a retired Springfield Police Officer who responded to the deadly shooting at Thurston High School about 20 years ago, when a gunman killed two people and injured 26 others.

"I actually saw the practical application going into the cafeteria in Thurston, so I can look at these different scenarios whether it's a church setting or a school setting and give first hand insight on what it's going to be like," said Myers.

He said for this course, they practice a lot of close quarter combat, which is shooting at the target from within a few yards.

During the course, they practice both shooting and reloading. Higashi said the repetition is helpful: "They want us to have muscle memory."

"Practice, practice practice...that's what this day is all about," said Tom Eichhorn, the Training Director for New Hope Eugene's Safety Team and a retired Eugene Police Lieutenant.

"In the U.S. today, 100% of the time when force is met with force, it stops the action," said Eichhorn. He said each member attending Myer's firearm class has gone through several levels of training. They also all have a concealed carry license.

"Level four is the highest level in those unfortunate circumstances where deadly force may have to be employed," said Eichhorn.

He said it's a level of training, that's necessary: "Our guys are trained in identifying the pre-incident indicators that will indicate to them that something is coming, and if it does get to the point where the implementation of the violent act occurs, then this is the only training that's going to stop that."

"If we could just save one life, then that's payment enough for us," said Tony Read, the Safety Team's Co-Director.

Read took part in the class and said he feels a responsibility to keep families safe, especially those who may have a parent overseas protecting his freedom.

"We have so many families that have their sons and daughters or moms and dads in the military and they're out protecting our freedom, and they're relying on the people around their families to protect them, whether that's a firefighter, police or your average Joe."

Higashi said this training is his way of serving his church and community: "Whether they be pro-gun or anti-gun, we just don't want to be a soft target, because we want people especially go to a place of worship not to have that experience to be affected of someone who's troubled for any reason."

The class is contracted out to 295 Tactical, but the Safety Team at New Hope Eugene does offer training to other churches on how to de-escalate situations verbally.

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