Christian and other faith leaders across the US-state of Missouri have united against a draft Bill which would make it easier for gun owners to carry weapons in places of worship. Under current legislation in the State, people with permits to carry concealed weapons must obtain the permission from property owners before carrying the weapons on their property. But law makers in the Missouri House are considering a law that shift the onus onto property owners. Under the new law, people with conceal-carry permits would be entitled to carry weapons onto private property – including sacred spaces – unless the premises display signs to the contrary.
“We do want the legislators to take some action – just not on the Bill that is before them at the moment, Bishop Wayne Smith of the US-based Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Missouri, said at a joint faith-leaders’ press conference. “We urge the Missouri House to take new legislative priorities, such as banning bump-stocks, limiting high-capacity magazines, better access and resources for mental health care, and the strengthening of background checks.”
The Revd Charles Norris, Pastor of St James’ African Methodist Episcopal Church and vice president of the ecumenical St Louis Clergy Coalition group, explained: “It is in the spirit of love and charity which we seek to have with our neighbours and with one another – because we are better together – that we hope and pray that the political leaders of our state will overcome partisan divisions for the sake of safety.
“As leaders of different faith traditions, we are united in the belief that life is a gift from God. We lament the polarisation of the gun issue. In our public work to end violence, we must work together.”
Archbishop Robert Carlson from the Roman Catholic diocese of St Louis said that the Bill would “broaden Second Amendment rights at the expense of First Amendment right to religious liberty.” He added: “As part of the principle of religious liberty, churches and places of worship continue to have the right to regulate their places of worship and sacred spaces; and to decide on their own prerogative whether or not to allow concealed weapons on their property. But it is up to them to determine what is in the best interests of their religious community.
“If the Bill were to pass, churches wishing to remain gun-free would be required to display signage prohibiting guns in their sacred spaces. This is highly offensive to us and would violate our First Amendment rights to religious liberty.”
The Senior Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation in St Louis, Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg, said: “We are troubled by this epidemic of gun violence affecting our community, and we mourn with those affected by recent heavily-publicised shootings; and we witness that gun violence disproportionately affects many of our most vulnerable communities.”
One of the organisers of the faith-leaders’ press conference, Mike Angell, the Rector of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri, said that the gathering was not “an exhaustive list of the faith leaders that oppose the current legislation or that would be willing to work with our political leaders on some sensible gun legislation.
In a letter to lawmakers in Missouri, Bishop Wayne sets out further concerns about the proposed new law. “Current proposals to allow concealed weapons on university campuses and in bars – venues where alcohol use might well impair judgement – are incalculably dangerous and infringe on the rights of the of the majority of university students, faculty, administrators – and the general public who patronise bars.
“Furthermore, we do not accept the premise of ‘conceal and carry’ as normative for public life, to be tempered only by those organisations and facilities which post signage to prohibit these weapons. For most houses of worship, long acknowledged as nonviolent sanctuaries, this default assumption is deeply offensive. Some faith communities may in fact welcome guns in their midst, but they are a distinct minority and, consequently, should bear the burden for posting signage to allow for concealed weapons.
“Hospitals, similarly, are havens for healing and safety, and they too often, and tragically, are places to treat victims of violence. Allowing more weapons into this place of refuge compounds the danger of violence and retribution. Such a law would put patients, staff and visitors at substantial and unnecessary risk.”
In the letter, which he writes “as a servant of Jesus of Nazareth, who comes in peace”, he says: “I urge you to remove the expansion of conceal and carry from the General Assembly’s agenda.”
“This is really, we hope, just a start; it’s a starting place. We think it is important to bring our voices together to say we object to the current proposals and to say that we would be willing to work together on some gun legislation that could make a real difference for the safety of our communities.”