- (Photo: AP Images / Robert Cohen, Pool)
As part of its plan to reduce incidents of gun violence, the Obama administration released on Tuesday guides that tell houses of worship and other institutions what to do in emergency situations, including shootings.
"Many people think of a house of worship as a safe area where violence and emergencies cannot affect them. However, violence in houses of worship is not a new phenomenon," the guide reads.
In January, one month after the mass-shooting tragedy in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 school children dead, President Barack Obama laid out a number of executive actions seeking to reduce gun violence.
As Vice President Joe Biden explained on Tuesday, steps have been taken to strengthen existing background checks, encourage people to be more responsible gun owners, prompt further research into gun violence, improve access to mental health care, and try to make schools and communities safer.
The White House published three separate "Emergency Operations" guides, one for schools, one for institutions of higher education, and one for houses of worship.
As the introduction to the house of worship guide reminds citizens, faith communities have seen their fair share of violence in the past few years in America. In August 2012, a 40-year-old U.S. army veteran killed six people at a Wisconsin Sikh temple, and just this past Sunday on Father's day, a man shot his father-in-law through the head at a church service in Ogden, Utah.
The guides, which are being jointly released by the Departments of Education, Justice (led by the FBI), Homeland Security (led by FEMA), and Health and Human Services, attempt to educate institutions on how to work with first responders and other community partners to plan and prepare for various emergencies, including natural disasters and shooting situations.
In the section on how to deal with active shooter situations, the guide reminds houses of worship that while evacuation drills for dangers such as fires and tornadoes have become routine, far fewer facilities practice for shooting scenarios.
"Understandably, this is a sensitive topic. There is no single answer for what to do, but a survival mindset can increase the odds of surviving," the 38-page PDF document states.
"During an active shooter situation, the natural human reaction, even for those who are highly trained, is to be startled; feel fear and anxiety; and even experience initial disbelief and denial," the guide continues. "Noise from alarms, gunfire, explosions, and people shouting and screaming should be expected. Training provides the means to regain composure, recall at least some of what has been learned, and commit to action. There are three basic response options: run, hide, or fight."
A White House report on the president's executive actions to reduce gun violence asserts that more needs to be done to address the problem, pointing to Congress.
A bipartisan amendment looking to expand background checks for gun purchases at gun shows and online died at the Senate in April after it failed to get enough votes. While it marked a blow for the Obama administration, the president promised that "this effort is not over" and that he will continue doing everything he can to protect communities.
The new report calls on Congress to act by passing common-sense gun safety legislation, which includes expanding background checks and making gun trafficking a federal crime, which it says is the most important step America can take toward reducing gun violence.
"A vast majority of the American people supports these critical steps, which would protect our kids and our communities without infringing in any way on our Second Amendment rights," the document states, noting concerns some Americans have had with proposed gun legislation that they fear might infringe on their right to bear arms.
"It is time for Congress to take action and get this done," the report urges.