Lawful concealed carry and religion intersected in the news recently as Mississippi considered a law to “allow” churches to form church security committees for the protection of the congregation and, with training, for security committee members to carry concealed guns. Previous Mississippi law prohibited concealed carry in a church. The reaction was swift and shrill, with predictions of blood in the aisles. The experience of other states speaks otherwise. Congratulations to Mississippi for expanding liberty.
Laws banning guns from houses of worship violate the First and Second Amendments to the Constitution. The First Amendment prohibits Congress (and through incorporation via the 14th Amendment, state legislatures) from making any law regarding the establishment or free exercise of religion. The “Establishment Clause,” as it has come to be known, has been liberally interpreted to forbid any sort of favoritism for one religious doctrine over another. Prohibiting the bearing of arms in houses of worship supports a doctrine of pacifism over doctrines of preparedness and righteous defense of innocent life.
Constitutional issues aside, carrying a gun at church raises important questions, both doctrinal and practical. At the highest level, it’s worth pointing out that very few religions preach total pacifism or passivity in the face of a threat. No matter what denomination or creed, doctrinal questions should be worked out between individuals, church leadership and God. Having the doctrine settled at the outset will help establish boundaries and can help dictate actions in the event of an incident. Having those questions settled beforehand will make for a more effective response.
The practical matters of guns in churches are significant. Many people have a strong visceral reaction to the idea of someone carrying a gun in a house of worship. Carrying a gun also brings with it a responsibility to maintain a heightened level of awareness and preparedness. That level of awareness can easily conflict with the desire to be totally immersed in spiritual communion. This is a personal matter, but it needs consideration. In contrast, a person who is routinely armed may find that being disarmed can also interfere with one’s worship. Someone who is more comfortable being armed may be uncomfortable and somewhat distracted if forced to go without it, especially in a place with little security and large crowds.
There is also the issue of interfering with the worship of others. Right or wrong, justified or not, many people are simply uncomfortable around guns. If they become aware that someone in the worship service is armed, it could distract them from their worship. Not being sensitive to these folks’ feelings would be inconsiderate and could be a violation of scriptural guidance. The apostle Paul exhorts Christians to avoid things which might cause a brother to stumble, but of course, that can be a difficult proposition when dealing with people with irrational fears.
In this age of the “War on Terror” and a rash of deranged and suicidal individuals taking out their rage on “soft targets” like churches, schools and shopping malls, the idea of going armed has been steadily gaining ground. It once seemed strange for a church, mosque, or synagogue to even have a security plan, much less armed security guards. It is now unusual for houses of worship not to have a plan, and armed, though usually discreet, security is common.
Anyone attending a worship service in states with a strong “gun culture” can pretty safely assume that there are people in the service who are armed. Some are armed at the behest, or at least with the knowledge and agreement of their elders, pastors, or rabbis. Others keep their arms totally discreet, not divulging their presence to anyone. In states like Arizona, which has a long tradition of open carry of firearms, it is not unheard of for someone to show up for church with a gun visible on his hip. Since Arizona lifted requirements for a license or permit to carry a firearms concealed, the typical response to someone carrying openly would be to ask if he would mind pulling his shirt over the gun so as not to disturb any of the other worshipers, but it would be very unlikely for the person to be turned away.
To some people, especially people in highly restrictive states in the Northeast, this might sound shocking, but to gun-folks in the South, West and Midwest, it’s just everyday life. We are generally comfortable with firearms and the people who carry them. More importantly, we understand that laws, signs, or polite requests not to bring a gun somewhere, whether it be a house of worship or a convenience store, will deter only people who represent no threat. Without secured entrances, metal detectors and bag-checks, anyone choosing to ignore the law or the sign on the door will simply do so. If they have evil intentions, they know that the law or the sign simply reduces the likelihood that they might meet any armed resistance to their plans.
Most religions recognize the sanctity of life and condone the use of deadly force in defense of the innocent. Churches, synagogues, mosques and temples have been targeted throughout history by cowards seeking easy targets. Such attacks have occurred here in the United States from the days before the Revolution right up to the present, and some of those attacks have been stopped by armed worshipers. Whether it is a Jew with the words “Never Again!” engraved on the slide of a German Luger, a Sikh remembering the attack in Wisconsin, a Muslim worried about being blamed for terrorist acts committed in the name of his religion, or a Christian volunteering to guard the flock from whatever may come, we should all consider ourselves blessed to live in a country where the right to arms is recognized and protected, and where there are people willing and able to stand against evil, even in our sacred places.