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States Caught in Crossfire over Guns in Churches

posted by editor

By ADELLE M. BANKS
c. 2011 Religion News Service
(RNS) The way Rev. Jonathan Wilkins sees it, members of his Baptist church in Thomaston, Ga., should have the right to carry guns into worship services to protect the congregation.
Wilkins’ Baptist Tabernacle and a Georgia gun-rights association are challenging a new state law that prohibits weapons in houses of worship. A lower court ruled against them in January; the case is now headed for appeal.
“What we’re fighting for is not that just any old body can carry guns in church,” Wilkins said. “We would be responsible. We would want people who are trained, and so forth, to carry, people that we designate for protective purposes.”
Recently, state legislatures in Georgia, Michigan and Louisiana have been caught in the crossfire of the debate between gun rights and gun control as they consider allowing weapons in houses of worship.
Though gun-rights proponents think they have both the First and Second Amendments on their side, they also cite the rights of religious organizations as property owners. Opponents, meanwhile, worry that having weapons in worship is part of a slippery slope to permitting them everywhere.
A month after then-Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the 2010 law listing places of worship among “unauthorized” locations for carrying weapons, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal took the opposite tack. Louisiana law now permits trained worshippers to bring guns into churches, mosques and synagogues as long as fellow congregants are informed.
Meanwhile, other states are mulling whether to scale back restrictions on weapons.
In Michigan, gun rights activists are pushing for a change in the law that would make it possible to carry guns in worship without prior permission from a presiding official.
Mike Thiede, spokesman for Michigan Gun Owners and a member of a Baptist church, said he spoke to legislators in favor of changing the law after a church secretary was assaulted and a pastor was tied up during a robbery at another church.
“I just thought it was a terrible situation for people to be in,” he said. “Outside that door, they could protect themselves but inside that door, they could be a victim.”
Other crimes have prompted greater interest in new legislation. In 2009 alone, abortion doctor and usher George Tiller was shot in the foyer of his Lutheran church in Kansas; the Rev. Fred Winters was killed in his Illinois pulpit; and the Rev. Carol Daniels was found dead in her Oklahoma church.
“When you see things like that happening over and over again, churches are saying, ‘What are we supposed to do?”‘ said Jeffrey Hawkins, executive director of the Virginia-based Christian Security Network.
Hawkins’ organization reported seven homicides in churches in 2010, but while he supports crime prevention techniques, Hawkins does not advocate worshippers carrying guns into church.
“You go into somewhere crowded, like a church, and there’s three people who have guns out that are shooting at each other,” he said. “How’s the police officer going to be able to discern who’s … the bad guy?”
Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney of the San Francisco-based Legal Community Against Violence, said many states remain silent on weapons and worship. But she said gun lobbyists have become more vocal advocates for permitting weapons not only in churches but in other public places, such as parking lots and bars.
“Guns don’t have a place in public, especially places like churches and bars and places where a lot of people are congregating,” she said. “An unintentional shooting could end up injuring many people.”
Laws about weapons in houses of worship vary widely. Some states forbid firearms in religious buildings but others permit them unless a congregation has posted a sign disallowing them. Still others say they’re permitted if the pastor, priest or rabbi gives the OK.
And the penalties are just as varied, with some “like a traffic ticket” and other violations considered a felony, Hawkins said.
In Virginia, carrying a gun in a house of worship is allowed unless there’s a service being conducted. If there is a service, “good and sufficient reason” — a term left undefined in the code — is required.
“We think our law is actually broad enough that there’s no great urgency to try to change it,” said Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group.
In Mississippi, several bills introduced this year to remove churches from a list of prohibited places for weapons died in committee, but at least one continues to be debated.
“It seems to me that our law that explicitly prohibits acts in a church that are perfectly legal outside the church clearly violates the First Amendment in addition to the Second,” said Jeff Pittman, vice president of the Mississippi State Firearm Owners Association.



  • Your Name

    Pardon my vernacular but – HAVE YOU LOST YOUR COLLECTIVE (effin’) MINDS???
    Guns in Church!?!?!?!! Jeez Lou-frickin-ise. What’ll be next: Send your kid to school with a gun?
    270,000+ Americans killed by guns since 9/11.
    How many deaths will it take til you know that too many people have died???

  • Heretic_for_Christ

    The surest proof of lunacy is when it becomes impossible to discern between reality and a satire of reality. Guns in churches… Is this real or is it a spoof made up by those godless LIBERALS at Comedy Central? Who could tell?
    Yes, we know it’s real, but only because it is in the news. In terms of content, it would be impossible to tell whether it is real or a Comedy Central spoof.
    It is an increasing challenge to satirists to keep up with the burgeoning lunacy that now passes itself off as “conservatism” in America. Reality may soon surpass satire’s best efforts.

  • pagansister

    What in the name of anything folks deem Holy are these people thinking? Guns in church? So there have been crimes and murders in a few churches? Would the murders that took place in the different churches been prevented if the folks in the congregation were armed? No, just more folks would have been killed—a shooter isn’t going to come in and announce his/her intentions. A shooter would be just another armed person in the pews. If the person was not recognized as they entered, most churches would be welcoming visitors.. Would they ask if the visitor intended to kill folks before they let them in? The whole idea goes against what, IMO, a house of worshop is intended to be. Not a place for violence. Enough of that already.
    Virginia says you can carry a gun in church unless there is a service going on? OK, perhaps that would invite the type of person that would go in and kill a minister/priest/rabbi or whoever. Stange.

  • nnmns

    At this point we might as well throw in this towel and look forward to rows full of Uzi-packing worshipers.
    There are, let’s face it, bigger problems.

  • Church Carry

    Funny. Every time someone mentions LAW-ABIDING citizens carrying a firearm into church, there’s a HUGE fit from anti-gun nuts and (typically) left-leaning folks who think guns are the problem. Another funny fact – of every violent act that was committed by a CRIMINAL against a church or its members, either the gunman got away, or they were stopped by regular citizens. It’s a simple fact, by the time the police arrive, it’s time to clean up the mess.
    The Colorado church shooter was stopped by a concerned citizen who received permission from her pastor to carry that day. The Illinois shooter was stopped by an unarmed usher (it’s Illinois – everyone but the crooks are unarmed). Even the Arizona nutjob who shot the Congresswoman and others was stopped by two civilians, one of whom was a CCW holder, and made the right decision NOT to draw his gun until he figured out what was going on.
    When a criminal attacks a (real or perceived) Victim Disarmament Zone, excuse me, a Gun Free Zone, they do so because there is NO ONE SHOOTING BACK. Schools, churches, Chicago, DC, NYC, and LA. What do these places have in common? Higher rates of crime due to general inability to protect themselves. Gun stores, Indiana, Texas and Alaska. What do THEY have in common? More guns, more ability to protect themselves, less crime.
    I’m actually the Safety Director for my (large) church. I do carry a firearm concealed, with permission, in my church, as do certain other members of my team. Firearms carried by those who are trained and given permission are only a SMALL part of our safety program. But they are a part of it. I know several other churches in our area, and several other safety team leaders in the area, and the vast majority of them have at least some members who are armed, just in case bad stuff happens. It’s the same reason you have a fire extinguisher in your home – just in case fire breaks out. It’s the same reason you have a first aid kit in your house – just in case someone gets hurt. It’s the same reason your car has seatbelts – just in case you are in a crash. I carry a gun – just in case bad people want to do bad things to my family or my congregation.
    And as far as the “270,000 gun deaths since 9/11″ comment. Let’s look at it closely. First, you quoted a liberal-leaning COMIC STRIP for your number. Second, those numbers were extrapolated (estimated) from actual numbers based on a CDC report from 2002-2007. The numbers follow:
    • Suicides: 102,002 between 2002 and 2007
    • Homicides: 73,148 between 2002 and 2007
    • Accidental: 4,185 between 2002 and 2007
    • Legal shootings: 1,999 between 2002 and 2007
    • Undetermined: 1,427 between 2002 and 2007
    So, from 2002-2007, there were 182,761 “gun-related” deaths according to the CDC. Of those, 102,002 chose to use a gun to commit suicide. Those folks would have been able to find another way to kill themselves – it’s not the guns’ fault. Apparently, there were also 73,148 homicides. As in CRIMES. As in NOT law-abiding citizens – by definition. At least 8 of those were killed in CHURCHES where law enforcement officers could not prevent it. So, of that 182,761, we can figure that 175,150 deaths were either self-inflicted or caused by the very criminals that someone like me hopes to never see, but prepares to stop.
    That leaves 4,185 accidental (negligent) deaths by firearms. That is roughly 698 accidental gun-related deaths per year. Better training causes this number to drop significantly (as it has SHARPLY since the mid 80′s), and it’s still NOT the guns’ fault. That also leaves 1,999 JUSTIFIED (legal) self-defense shootings (at least on of which was the above mentioned VOLUNTEER civilian at the Colorado church). Nothing to be worried for there. And finally the CDC doesn’t know how to classify 1,427 of those deaths. Nothing to say there.
    So of the 182,000 gun deaths over those six years, I feel sad for the families of the 102,000 suicides and pity the families of the 73,000 crime victims.
    I pray daily that I never have to draw my weapon. I also pray that if I ever need to, he calms my hand and steadies my nerves to stop the bad guys.

  • Church Carry

    Funny. Every time someone mentions LAW-ABIDING citizens carrying a firearm into church, there’s a HUGE fit from anti-gun nuts and (typically) left-leaning folks who think guns are the problem. Another funny fact – of every violent act that was committed by a CRIMINAL against a church or its members, either the gunman got away, or they were stopped by regular citizens. It’s a simple fact, by the time the police arrive, it’s time to clean up the mess.
    The Colorado church shooter was stopped by a concerned citizen who received permission from her pastor to carry that day. The Illinois shooter was stopped by an unarmed usher (it’s Illinois – everyone but the crooks are unarmed). Even the Arizona nutjob who shot the Congresswoman and others was stopped by two civilians, one of whom was a CCW holder, and made the right decision NOT to draw his gun until he figured out what was going on.
    When a criminal attacks a (real or perceived) Victim Disarmament Zone, excuse me, a Gun Free Zone, they do so because there is NO ONE SHOOTING BACK. Schools, churches, Chicago, DC, NYC, and LA. What do these places have in common? Higher rates of crime due to general inability to protect themselves. Gun stores, Indiana, Texas and Alaska. What do THEY have in common? More guns, more ability to protect themselves, less crime.
    I’m actually the Safety Director for my (large) church. I do carry a firearm concealed, with permission, in my church, as do certain other members of my team. Firearms carried by those who are trained and given permission are only a SMALL part of our safety program. But they are a part of it. I know several other churches in our area, and several other safety team leaders in the area, and the vast majority of them have at least some members who are armed, just in case bad stuff happens. It’s the same reason you have a fire extinguisher in your home – just in case fire breaks out. It’s the same reason you have a first aid kit in your house – just in case someone gets hurt. It’s the same reason your car has seatbelts – just in case you are in a crash. I carry a gun – just in case bad people want to do bad things to my family or my congregation.
    And as far as the “270,000 gun deaths since 9/11″ comment. Let’s look at it closely. First, you quoted a liberal-leaning COMIC STRIP for your number. Second, those numbers were extrapolated (estimated) from actual numbers based on a CDC report from 2002-2007. The numbers follow:
    • Suicides: 102,002 between 2002 and 2007
    • Homicides: 73,148 between 2002 and 2007
    • Accidental: 4,185 between 2002 and 2007
    • Legal shootings: 1,999 between 2002 and 2007
    • Undetermined: 1,427 between 2002 and 2007
    So, from 2002-2007, there were 182,761 “gun-related” deaths according to the CDC. Of those, 102,002 chose to use a gun to commit suicide. Those folks would have been able to find another way to kill themselves – it’s not the guns’ fault. Apparently, there were also 73,148 homicides. As in CRIMES. As in NOT law-abiding citizens – by definition. At least 8 of those were killed in CHURCHES where law enforcement officers could not prevent it. So, of that 182,761, we can figure that 175,150 deaths were either self-inflicted or caused by the very criminals that someone like me hopes to never see, but prepares to stop.
    That leaves 4,185 accidental (negligent) deaths by firearms. That is roughly 698 accidental gun-related deaths per year. Better training causes this number to drop significantly (as it has SHARPLY since the mid 80′s), and it’s still NOT the guns’ fault. That also leaves 1,999 JUSTIFIED (legal) self-defense shootings (at least on of which was the above mentioned VOLUNTEER civilian at the Colorado church). Nothing to be worried for there. And finally the CDC doesn’t know how to classify 1,427 of those deaths. Nothing to say there.
    So of the 182,000 gun deaths over those six years, I feel sad for the families of the 102,000 suicides and pity the families of the 73,000 crime victims.
    I pray daily that I never have to draw my weapon. I also pray that if I ever need to, he calms my hand and steadies my nerves to stop the bad guys.

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