Recently, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to clarify the state’s position on whether or not congregants can pack heat at their places of worship.
Patrick seems to think they can, unless their respective church, synagogue, temple or mosque posts a sign telling them otherwise.
He’s probably right.
The state’s penal code would benefit from some clarity, but it seems to treat Texas churches and other places of worship like most private entities – each institution can determine whether or not licensed handgun holders are allowed to bring handguns inside.
That’s as it should be. Places of worship are best situated to make those determinations and should have sovereignty over their property on such matters.
In the wake of the Sutherland Springs church massacre, during which a gunman slaughtered 26 people worshiping in a Sunday morning service, some Texas leaders have encouraged licensed individuals to carry their concealed weapons where permitted – including places of worship.
Writing in the Dallas Morning News, Paxton argued that concealed carry laws allow people to arm themselves such that they may help to thwart potential future attackers. “For the best way to honor the victims of such violence is to do our part to ensure that it never happens again,” wrote Paxton.
He’s right about that. And, of course, how best to prevent mass shootings – or shootings of any kind – is a complex policy question worthy of honest debate.
But with regard to the issue at hand, the real question is not whether churches and the like can permit congregants to carry handguns during religious services, it is whether they should.
Sadly, the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs is hardly the first house of worship to be targeted by a gunman.
Fort Worth knows this all too well. Almost 20 years ago, a gunman killed seven people at Wedgwood Baptist Church, before turning the gun on himself.
In 2012, an attack on a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, just as services were to begin, left six congregants dead.
And in 2015, a shooter entered a historically black church in Charleston, S.C., and killed nine people during a Bible study.
While church shootings are hardly a regular occurrence, they happen with enough frequency to give those in attendance cause for worry – enough that they may consider carrying a weapon of their own to service.
A new state law allows Texas churches to have armed volunteer guards, a statute that will probably be used by small or rural congregations with limited resources.
But even Second Amendment advocates can agree that there is something unsettling in the idea of ordinary people (not off-duty law enforcement or security guards) coming to church armed.
By their very nature, places of worship are places of vulnerability.
They are sacred and solemn. They are places where people shed the distractions and burdens of daily life.
People attending services are often praying, kneeling, meditating and singing. These individuals are speaking to God – one of the most intimate of human activities.
The Catholic tradition holds that the real presence of Jesus Christ exists inside a church’s sanctuary.
While this makes attacking a church all the more abhorrent, it also makes carrying a weapon during such a spiritual encounter seem like blasphemy.
This is a case in which morality should probably outweigh practicality.
That said, the leaders of churches, synagogues and mosques do have a responsibility to protect their congregants.
Many already do, by providing security when religious services are held or enlisting the help of local police. Even small churches with limited resources can surely find solutions that will help keep their congregations safe, even if that means locking the doors after services have started.
While church leaders should consider increasing or improving security measures, asking the congregation to arm itself doesn’t seem like the ideal solution.
It isn’t terrible to think that our sacred spaces should remain sacred, and that means keeping guns out of them.
Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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