Editorial | Don’t change law on churches and concealed carry

Sometimes, rights collide. Our rights to freely worship and to self-protection should not.

But bills in the Missouri Assembly would eliminate the need for people to obtain permission before carrying concealed firearms into a church or other religious space. If this bill were to pass, churches wishing to prohibit firearms would have to post signs in their sacred spaces specifically prohibiting guns.

Imagine this: a big sign reading, "NO FIREARMS ALLOWED," next to an image of Jesus Christ at a church entrance.

"This is highly offensive to us and would violate our First Amendment rights to religious liberty," the Missouri Catholic bishops wrote in a joint statement about gun violence. "As the leaders of the Catholic Church in Missouri, we vigorously object to this change in Missouri law."

It isn't just Missouri's Catholic bishops who oppose the proposed legislation. Other faith leaders echoed the bishops' positions on gun violence and related legislation in the Missouri Capitol. The faith leaders, including Rev. Charles Norris, vice president of the St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition, also oppose the change to Missouri's concealed-carry law.

"Our pastors, rabbis and leaders should not have to place signage in our sacred spaces to prevent weapons from entering," a statement from the religious leaders explained. "We stand together and object to this proposal. Such a change would be a violation of our First Amendment rights. Additionally the proposal could threaten the public safety of our religious school campuses and day care centers as 'conceal carry zones' are extended into these places. We urge the leadership of the Missouri Legislature not to enact this proposal."

House Bill 1936, sponsored by Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa, and House Bill 1382 sponsored by Rep. Rocky Miller, R-Lake Ozark, would eliminate the requirement that people get permission from the minister or other authority of a religious organization in order to carry concealed firearms in places of worship or other religious property. This is bad legislation. Churches shouldn't be forced to put up signs to exercise their right to regulate their sacred space.

Missouri's Catholics bishops acknowledge our right to self-defense and that most of us wouldn't choose lethal force unless necessary to preserve human life. They also call for serious reflection on why our culture has so much gun violence; to have honest discussions about how violence impacts us, especially our youth; to work toward peace through restorative justice policies; and for legislation that would increase resources for mental health care, improve background checks for firearm purchases, and restrict firearms accessories such as bump stocks and high-capacity ammunition magazines. These issues are worthy of our conversation and prayers.

There may be no easy answer to curbing gun violence, and a multi-pathed approach is necessary. But forcing churches to post signs to formally prohibit guns is unnecessary. 

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