RELIGIOUS leaders in Missouri, in the United States, have denounced a Bill that would allow people to carry concealed guns into places of worship without seeking permission. The Bill has passed easily through the state’s Republican-led House of Representatives, but still needs to be considered by its Senate.
The Bishop of Missouri, the Rt Revd Deon Johnson, a member of the group Bishops against Gun Violence, joined Christian, Jewish, and humanist groups in denouncing the Bill, which, they said, would take away the freedom of religious leaders to decide whether to allow weapons in their church, synagogue, or mosque.
“The current legislation not only harms places of worship but communities as a whole with the proliferation of firearms. Places of worship should not be places where firearms can or should be allowed,” Bishop Johnson said this week. “As followers of Jesus, we are called to be peacemakers, and the solution to a gun problem is not adding more guns, but practising and promoting avenues towards peace.
“Currently, schools and places of worship are exempt from being places where firearms can be carried, particularly concealed firearms. This new proposal would end that exemption and remove from religious leaders the freedom to determine what is in the best interest of the worshipping community when it comes to firearms. In essence, this disregards the First Amendment right to freely express religion against the Second Amendment right to carry fire arms.”
If the Bill became law, religious leaders who did not want guns on their premises would have to post signs warning people not to carry them.
The executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St Louis, Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, said that the Jewish community “know what it is to see people attacked during worship services”.
She mentioned the massacre in 2018 at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, in which 11 congregants were killed in what was the deadliest attack on Jews in US history (News, 2 November 2018). “We don’t think that worshippers with guns is going to be the answer to that.”
An attempt by Democrats to remove the amendment on concealed carry, as it is known, in churches failed in a Senate committee hearing, and the Bill will now go before the whole Senate.
The Republican-led Senate is likely to pass the legislation, but Bishop Johnson said that, if it was passed, religious leaders would file litigation against it.
Other states have passed laws to allow concealed carry in churches. In Indiana, however, after protests from religious leaders, the state Senate this year refused to hear a measure that would have eliminated permits for carrying firearms.
Another part of the Bill before Missouri’s Senate would allow 18-year-old civilians to gain concealed-carry permits, which currently are available only to people at least 19 years old, or to 18-year-olds in the military.