When Pope Francis was inaugurated in March 2013, he was not just the first Jesuit pope, the first pope from the Americas, and the first pope from the southern hemisphere. He was also the first pope since the 1981 attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II to forgo using the bullet proof glass-encased “Popemobile.”
A HUMBLE POPE DECLINES BULLET PROOF GLASS BUBBLE
This is a very conscious decision by Pope Francis, who is renowned for his humble disposition. Pope Francis declines to have servants, and chooses to live in a small apartment in the Vatican guest house, rather than the opulent papal residence in the Apostolic Palace. In contrast to previous popes–and many priests–he regularly counsels inmates and indigents, both male and female, from various faiths.
Nonetheless, when Pope Francis visited Brazil in July–immediately on the heels of huge nationwide demonstrations protesting government waste and corruption–he was expected to adopt the ballistic security measures long favored by the Vatican. He did not.
According to Sister Irma Terezinha, who is in charge of the Pope’s living arrangements while he is in Brazil, “The Pope does not feel he is [to be] treated differently from others. He does not like individualism. Everything is done the same way for everyone and nothing will be different for him.” This means no bullet resistant glass screens at the open vigils on Brazil’s beaches–attended by three million parishioners–no backstopping the walls and windows of his living accommodations in Brazil, and no Popemobile. Pope Francis told the Catholic News Service (CNS) that, “Security lies in trusting people. It’s true that there’s always the danger that a crazy person will try to do something, but there’s also the Lord.” CNS went on to note that Pope Francis believes that sealing a holy man in bullet proof glass “is also craziness,” and that he preferred the “craziness of trust.”
MINIMIZING RISK WITH BULLET RESISTANT GLASS
Total Security Solutions vice president Jim Richards has experience both with the sorts of temporary bullet resistant glass screens used by politicians at public events, and with ballistic security for the homes and offices of government officials and foreign dignitaries.
“There are people that want to see these people dead. That’s the fact of the matter. If the Pope’s increasing that risk by not taking the necessary precautions, that’s noble to him, but there’s a risk of exposure there. If you have bullet proof glass in your car, and you’re the Pope, you are eliminating the risk of someone trying to shoot through the windows.”
In Jim’s experience, armed attackers break down into two broad groups: The almost-random assailant, and the organized individual or team. That first group includes most shootings–crimes of opportunity, assaults arising from disputes, domestic violence–while the later encompasses both the better-planned economic crimes (bank robberies, burglaries) and many terrorists attacks.
In the last several years, the bulk of attempted assassins have come from the first group. Examples include Jared Lee Loughner (who attempted to kill Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, AZ in January 2011) and Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, who fired at the White House with a high-powered rifle in November 2011.
As Jim explains, such attackers are “people that have the idea that they want to do something violent, but aren’t very organized in their thoughts or planning.” Bullet resistant glass shields are highly effective at discouraging this group. And that doesn’t just protect the target: Loughner’s attempt was on Congresswoman Gifford–who survived–but he killed six bystanders in the process and injured 12 others.
When politicians and public figures opt to stand behind bullet resistant glass barriers, it isn’t just their own lives being protected.