People would be allowed to bring guns into places of worship if they have a concealed carry permit under a bill proposed by a Missouri Republican.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ben Baker, a Neosho Republican, was heard by the House Emerging Issues Committee Wednesday, and would strike down the current rule prohibiting concealed guns in places of worship without the permission of the religious leader of the congregation.
Baker said pastors urged him to file the legislation because they do not want to be the person to determine who can carry guns in places of worship.
“It can put them in a really bad position to say yes to some, and then others be upset. So it’s just they don’t want to be involved,” Baker said. “As long as people have had the training to have the CCW, they don’t care.”
Jennifer Harris Dault, a St. Louis Mennonite pastor, said because Mennonites are historically peaceful and bringing guns into their congregations would go against their beliefs.
“We have enough gun violence all throughout our state,” Harris Dault said. “We don’t need to be inviting more places where people can come in and really threaten others, just by the presence of a gun.”
Harris Dault said lawmakers are not taking into consideration that most Missourians support common sense gun laws, and it is distressing to watch them continually make it easier to access guns.
The bill does include a provision that would still allow places of worship to prohibit firearms if they post signage that they’re not allowed on the property.
William Bland, a member of the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance, testified at the hearing that the bill would shield places of worship from liability if faith leaders no longer had to be the decision-makers on the issue.
“If a church does not want firearms on their premises, they need only post the appropriate sign at the entrance. This is a win-win, I think, for the churches and their congregants,” Bland said.
Nimrod Chapel, president of the Missouri NAACP, testified at the hearing that requiring places of worship to put up signage would further single out congregations that are at risk of violence.
“We know that houses of faith had been targeted, particularly minority houses of faith – Black and African American and Jewish and many others,” Chapel said. “This is going to cause a lot of problems.”
Daniel Bogard, a St. Louis rabbi said the Missouri legislature should be focused on making people’s lives better, but instead lawmakers are making lives harder and more dangerous.
“These gun laws, they’re not supported by the police. They’re not supported by religious institutions. They are not supported by ordinary Missourians,” Bogard said. “They’re just more fodder for the culture war that our legislature is waging on the ordinary citizens of our state.”
Bogard said there are already significant security concerns for Jewish people and congregations without the allowance of guns in places of worship.
“You’re not going to find almost any synagogue in America that doesn’t have a police officer by the door for any public events,” Bogard said.
Bogard said Jewish communities across the country already spend thousands of dollars on security measures to keep themselves safe from hateful people with access to guns.
“That’s money that should be going into serving our communities and serving the vulnerable and teaching people, and instead it is a Second Amendment tax on our First Amendment rights,” Bogard said.
The Kansas City metro’s Jewish community has experienced violence. In 2014, three people were killed outside of the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park when anti-semite Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. fatally shot them.
Baker said the bill would simply ensure everyone carrying a gun in a place of worship has a concealed carry permit. He said right now, some people carry a gun in church because they don’t know they need permission from their faith leader.
Baker said congregations can still prohibit guns by putting up a sign stating they are not allowed.
“If they want to put up a sign they can. But they shouldn’t be able to keep other people from defending their life and their family in those kinds of situations,” Baker said.
Rep. Ashley Aune, a Kansas City Democrat, said it is frustrating to see the bill come up again after it has been proposed and failed in previous years.
“It just seems like another conservative talking point, another opportunity for conservatives to get a conservative win in their district,” Aune said.
Rep. Bill Hardwick, a Waynesville Republican and chair of the committee, said he is prepared to listen to both sides of the debate during the hearing, but is inclined to protect individual’s freedoms.
Hardwick said he thinks the bill wouldn’t let people who commit violent crimes carry guns in churches because the faith leaders still have private property rights and can prohibit guns and certain people from the premises.
Hardwick said they should look at the shootings that have happened in places of worship, and how it might be helpful to have armed members of the congregation.
“We’re gonna have a fair look at whether or not somebody should be able to be armed in that church to stop those evil things from happening,” Hardwick said.