A new law in Texas allowing concealed carry holders to carry in churches, synagogues, and houses of worship has gone into effect, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has responded by declaring that only worshippers who are police officers are allowed to be armed while at church.
Church spokesman Daniel Woodruff told The Washington Post that a letter detailing the policy change was first sent to local leaders in Texas and shared with the 360,000 or so church members there. The letter, Woodruff explained, was sent following a recent change in state law that will permit licensed handgun owners to carry weapons in churches, synagogues and other places of worship unless they are explicitly told otherwise.
The same letter will soon be sent to other local leaders, Woodruff said.
“Churches are dedicated for the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world,” the updated handbook entry says. “With the exception of current law enforcement officers, the carrying of lethal weapons on church property, concealed or otherwise, is prohibited.”
Of course, church leaders have the right to establish whatever policy they wish, but this seems shortsighted and misguided to me. Not every church is going to have active duty law enforcement attending worship services, and if they’re the only ones allowed to carry, that means that some sanctuaries are just going to be undefended during their most vulnerable times.
Not everyone is happy with this new development either, as you can imagine.
Utah gun rights advocate Janalee Tobias sees a problem with the policy.
“It’s concerning that they are making us a soft target,” said the founder of Women Against Gun Control. “Criminals are cowards and these shootings occur in places that don’t have guns. You always want your enemies to think you are protected.”
Not everyone “has to pack a pistol to the pews,” she added, “just those who wish to.”
Now, those that wish to carry are being told they can’t. While the instructions have gone out specifically to church leaders in Texas, the Salt Lake Tribune notes the policy does apply to all 16-million members around the globe. If someone shows up with their legally carried firearm, according to the instructions, “the priesthood leader should read the approved statement and kindly ask them to comply by removing the firearm from the building.”
Tobias, a Latter-day Saint who lives in South Jordan, wishes her church would follow the “wisdom taught in the Book of Mormon” — the faith’s foundational scripture — that encourages members to “fortify their cities.”
She also argues the policy conflicts with the Second Amendment.
“The church doesn’t have a right to tell me if I have a right to protect my family,” she said, noting Mormon teachings that tout the U.S. Constitution as inspired by God. “But now we can’t have the Second Amendment in church. What do we do about that?”
It seems like this policy would work only if the person who brought a gun to church is willing to listen. If they showed up with evil intentions, kindly telling them to leave the gun free zone isn’t likely to work. At that point, parishioners had better hope there’s a cop in attendance because defending themselves is no longer an option.