So far it’s been difficult to get information on the question of whether the parishioners in the Texas church where yesterday’s mass murder took place were prohibited from carrying guns. Here are the pertinent rules in Texas:
Churches in Texas may prevent handgun license holders from carrying handguns inside church buildings as long as the church gives proper notice. Each church may decide for itself whether to allow:
Both open and concealed carry of handguns
Concealed carry of handguns but not open carry
Open carry of handguns and not concealed carry
No handguns regardless of whether they are carried openly or concealed
A church does not need to take any action if it wishes to allow handgun license holders to conceal carry or open carry in church buildings. If permitting handgun license holders to conceal carry or open carry on church premises is a cause of concern to your church, Texas Penal Code Sections 30.006 and 30.007 provide clear rules for notifying handgun license holders that your church is a gun-free zone or concealed carry only.
So it seems to be a church-by-church decision, but as yet we don’t know which rules were followed by the church where the massacre occurred. Obviously, however, if there was a no-gun rule there, it didn’t deter the gunman and it’s even possible that it encouraged him.
Apparently the question of whether to carry guns into a church is a topic that’s been debated both legally and within Christianity itself:
Whereas states like South Carolina ban guns in church in most instances, Texas allows firearms in sanctuary halls unless a church explicitly says otherwise. And a new Texas law signed in September allows houses of worship in the state to arm their congregations as a security measure.
However, while it’s certainly not unusual for churches to have security precautions or personnel, many faith leaders rebuke Paxton and Jeffress’ ideas that guns should be allowed in Sunday morning services. A 2012 PRRI poll found that 76 percent of Americans oppose allowing concealed weapons in church; This includes pastors in Texas, where many churches opted to ban guns on their premises after open-carry became the law of the land there in 2016. The Catholic Bishop of Dallas, for instance, banned guns in all his diocese’s parishes that year, following the lead of Catholic leaders who took similar steps in Georgia. Other Catholics also spoke out against open carry.
Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory and Savannah Bishop Gregory Hartmayer issued a decree prohibiting guns and knives with blades longer than 5 inches from parishes, churches, schools, administrative offices and other buildings owned or used by the Catholic community effective July 1.
In a statement, the bishops said Catholic places of worship are sanctuaries where “ways of peace and reconciliation” should be the rule.
“This decree is rooted in the belief that our churches and other places of worship are intended to be sanctuaries — holy sites where people come to pray and to worship God. In this nation of ours, they have seldom been the locations where violence has disrupted the otherwise peaceful atmosphere. Should it be necessary, we will seek the assistance of trained law enforcement personnel for protection, but among ourselves we will first seek ways of peace and reconciliation.”
That statement was issued back in July of 2014. But if you are going to “seek the assistance of trained law enforcement personnel for protection” if the death toll in churches meets your standard for activating armed self-defense, then why not let your church members protect themselves as well? After all, an armed guard can be more easily shot or disarmed than a church full of armed—or possibly armed—worshipers.
Other critics of gun violence include Shane Claiborne, a prolific Christian speaker and writer who works with an initiative that literally melts down AR-15s—weapons similar to the one reportedly used by Sutherland shooter—and turns them into plowshares, in keeping with a biblical reference.
When asked about Paxton and Jeffress’ comments, Claiborne responded by citing various Christian scriptures decrying violence and weaponry.
“Jesus carried a cross not a gun,” Claiborne told ThinkProgress. “He said greater love has no one that this—to lay down their life for another. The early Christians said ‘for Christ we can die but we cannot kill.’ When Peter picked up a sword to protect Jesus and cut off a guys ear, Jesus scolded him and put the ear back on. The early Christians said ‘when Jesus disarmed peter he disarmed every Christian.’ Evil is real but Jesus teaches us to fight evil without becoming evil. On the cross we see what love looks like when it stares evil in the face. Love is willing to die but not to kill.”
However, I’ve always been under the impression that that “swords into plowshares” verse—and the Book of Isaiah in general—is a prophecy, not a description of the way things are now. In addition, doesn’t that story about Jesus, Peter, and the ear (with which I was previously unfamiliar) appear to be, not a general call for complete non-violence, but a specific call to allow the process by which Jesus was arrested, sentenced, and later crucified to unfold?:
According to the Bible, one of the disciples, Simon Peter, being armed with a sword, cut off the servant’s ear in an attempt to prevent the arrest of Jesus…
Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?
I would add that the Commandment that is often cited as being “Thou shalt not kill” is a mistranslation of the Hebrew, which originally said “Thou shalt not murder.”
[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]DONATE
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