In the wake of the ongoing horrific gun violence in American schools, one of the GOP talking points is that the only defense against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, which has been repeatedly proven false, and that we need to “harden” schools. The gist is that schools must be full of armed guards with only one access point, that teachers should be armed and ready to kill any school shooters, even if the shooter is already a student there. Given that mass shootings occur all over the country, in hospitals, stores, movie theaters, on the quad of a campus, etc., limiting access to one entry point is impractical to prevent other mass shootings. Let’s talk about churches specifically, another frequent target of mass shooters.

Several years ago, after several high profile church shootings elsewhere in the country, a friend told me her young adult son was proud he was assigned to be the ward’s protector. His local bishop, knowing his experience with firearms, assigned him to be at Church each week with his concealed weapon, prepared to kill any shooter who intruded on the service. Was this a common experience in various wards, or was this a pro-gun bishop taking rogue actions?

After the deadly Sutherland Springs church shooting in Texas that led to 2 deaths, Texas codified into law a protection for parishioners to bring concealed weapons into churches.

The legislation — Senate Bill 535 by Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels — strikes a provision in current law that says handguns aren’t allowed in “churches, synagogues, or other places of worship.”

To be clear, churches would still be able to prohibit licensed citizens from carrying firearms on their premises so long as they provide oral or written notice.

Campbell’s bill codifies a previous opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton sought shortly after the shooting in Sutherland Springs. In the opinion, Paxton stated that “unless a church provides effective oral or written notice prohibiting the carrying of handguns on its property, a license holder may carry a handgun onto the premises of church property as the law allows.”

In response to this law as well as incidents of gun violence on Church property, the Church upgraded its policy against guns in Church from “inappropriate” to “prohibited”:

“Churches are dedicated for the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world. With the exception of current law enforcement officers, the carrying of lethal weapons on Church property, concealed or otherwise, is prohibited.”, Quoting the revised Church handbook from Aug, 2019.

Way back in 1999, when we were all preparing for the potential imminent threat posed by Y2K, a nothingburger in retrospect, one of the counselors in our then bishopric advised all ward members to have a full food storage before the year end, including enough firearms and ammunition to protect their food from the hordes of hungry neighbors who would, no doubt, descend upon them in a violent feeding frenzy. The bishop gently pulled him aside and said that his views weren’t exactly mainstream, although in typical Mormon fashion, the correction was so gentle, many may not have even noticed the sidelining of his perspectives. I found his advice unsettling to say the least. Not only was I skeptical that we were about to experience a total apocalypse due to Y2K, but as a Christian I vehemently disagreed that it was ever appropriate to shoot others to protect our food from being shared. Shouldn’t we share with others? Wasn’t that our Christian duty? How could killing people who were frightened, just because they were less prepared, be the right course of action? I wondered if we actually belonged to the same Church.

I’m sure it will come as no shock to any who’ve read my comments before that I’m not a gun person. I am not as “anti-gun” as you might imagine, but I would not own a gun. My main objections to owning a gun are pragmatic:

  • Suicide. When I was 14, a classmate committed suicide using one of the many guns in their home. His note to his father said, “Merry Christmas, Dad.” Knowing someone who died by gun suicide at such a young age has made me take the thought of death by suicide very seriously my whole life. We don’t know who in our houses might be suicidal at some point. Suicide attempts by gun are so much more successful than other methods that eliminating them feels like the best way to prevent the heartache and loss that my classmate’s family experienced. I’m sure had he survived there would have been some better resolution to what I assume was an abusive relationship with his dad. Suicide eliminates that possibility forever.
  • Domestic violence. Women are disproportionately killed through domestic violence in households with guns. Why even allow for that possibility?
  • It’s all about me. I’m personally unwilling to kill someone. I guess I would be willing to go Terminator 2 and shoot out their kneecaps. Maybe. If a gun only had a “stun” setting like in Star Trek, I might consider that. I just don’t want to be the person I would be if I killed someone. What if I thought one of my kids coming home was an intruder? Even if it is an intruder, that person also has loved ones. What if I killed someone who wasn’t really as dangerous as I thought? How would I live with that?

Coming back to the question of guns in Church, though, I have a few questions. It seems that the Church’s “no guns in Church” policy has taken a side, the right side in my view, but it’s a little late to the party. Perhaps the Texas law was the tipping point. It seems likely. I was travelling a lot in 2019, and I don’t recall this being read at Church, but I might have been away when it was read. What if a church policy like this is announced, and you just missed the announcement that week? What about visitors?

  • Do you think we have non-police bringing guns to Church, against current policy?
  • Are you personally aware of leader attempts to “harden” Churches like the case I mentioned above? Was it prior to the policy change?
  • Were you aware of the policy change? Was it announced at Church? Did you ever hear any pushback about it?