Chaplaincy and the Law: Pistol Packing Chaplains

by Chaplain Bennie Durham

SCPSCA President Chris Wade asked me to start helping with the blog. I am excited for the opportunity. Originally, we talked about doing a post on how chaplains should respond to people with autism. We will get to that one, but when the discussion of armed chaplains came up, we both agreed it was a worthy subject. I will attempt to cover several areas including CWP carry while on duty.

Comparing Military Chaplaincy and Public Safety Chaplaincy

Let me begin by saying how much I appreciate our military and the military chaplaincy program. Their chaplains are not armed but each will have an assistant who is responsible for his or her safety. Evidently that works well for them as that has been the policy for a long time.

I am convinced that public safety chaplaincy is different.

You do not have an assistant that goes with you to protect you. If you are a law-enforcement chaplain, you are riding with an armed person, but their first responsibility is to do their job. There is no doubt they will protect you if possible, but many times they have their hands full taking care of themselves.

Department or agency policies will determine what you can do or not do when you are riding with an officer. It’s not up to you. I am not as familiar with those policies in departments and agencies outside of law enforcement but do know that in law-enforcement circles you usually can’t carry.


Know State Law


Space won’t allow me to list all the state laws and rules for CWP holders in South Carolina. I encourage you to look them up. Many places prohibit carrying even if you have a CWP. And if you’re with a deputy or police officer, you’re prohibited from carrying. So, most of the time you would be breaking state law and department policy to carry with a CWP on a ride-along.

There was a bill introduced in 2013-2014 (SC bill S 836 Session 120 2013-2014). It would have allowed agencies the authority to authorize chaplains carrying on duty with a CWP. But it did not pass. If you feel passionate about that, you need to talk to your legislators about it.


Changing the Scenario: Becoming a Sworn Officer


An alternative that has worked well for me throughout my career may be a good option for you. I became a volunteer chaplain for Greenville County Sheriff’s Office in December 2000. A new Sheriff took office in January 2000 and called me in his office. At the time, chaplains were issued the same uniforms as deputies.


Sheriff Simmons didn’t like us riding unarmed with those uniforms. So, he suggested that we (myself and three other volunteers) go through reserve deputy training so that we would be sworn as well. We did and it worked well for us. Our deputies appreciated the fact that the chaplain could take care of himself and help them out when needed. It also built a comradery that I did not have before.


It made me feel better and put the deputies more at ease with us getting out with them. We took a good bit of criticism for it at the time. I remember being in a chaplain training and the instructor saying we shouldn’t be armed and trying to act like the police. He looked at me and said that he wasn’t talking about me!


I am not saying that unarmed chaplains are not valuable and needed. I am not saying that everyone should seek certification. I am now a full-time Chaplain/Deputy with Greenville County and oversee nine volunteer chaplains. Only one of them is certified with a Class 3 certification. The non-sworn are very valuable to our agency and are used regularly!


Three Options


So, let me start winding this discussion down.


As I mentioned above, reserve deputy/officer training is an option. The training for that is quite extensive, requiring around 160 training hours and field training afterwards. With a reserve certification, you have the same authority as a Class 1 deputy/officer as long as you are able to communicate with a Class 1 person. (Being in their presence, radio or telephone communication). Agency policy varies as some allow reserves to work by themselves while others require them in the presence of a Class 1 officer.


Another option to be armed is Class 3 certification. This will allow you to wear a uniform and be armed while working with a Class 1 officer. There are some other duties you can perform as well. But for chaplain purposes, you would be armed while riding with your agency or department. This certification requires two weeks of legal training and successfully passing a written test at the Academy as well as passing firearms qualifications at your agency or department. Of course, any of these would have to be approved by your agency or department head.


The last option is to become a state constable, if your agency or department allow them to ride. You can do an online search for that training as well. I am not as familiar with their training.

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So, in summary, if you desire to be armed while riding as a chaplain, do it the right way! Talk to your Chief, Sheriff or Director and see if they would allow you to be certified. Otherwise, until a law is passed to allow chaplains to carry while riding with a CWP, don’t risk breaking state law and being sued and released from duties because you “carried anyway!” It’s not worth it.

If you prefer NOT being armed, then don’t try to convince yourself to do it! Some folks are not comfortable carrying a weapon or the thought of using one. God has you in your position for a purpose! It may not be the same as others and that is okay. God wants us all to be where He places us.


If I can assist you in any of these processes, please contact me.


Bennie Durham

Vice President

South Carolina Public Safety Chaplains Association

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