In May 2016, members of the Church Law & Tax Team sat down with Editorial Advisor Frank Sommerville for a conversation on church security, gun laws, and how churches might best respond to violent incidents. (Frank had previously recorded a video for CLT on how conceal carry laws affect churches.) With such incidents on the rise, and considering the one-year anniversary of the shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, Frank provides insight into the legislation at work and the strategies that church leaders might follow.
How do states address concealed carry in churches?
Two states prohibit concealed carrying of a gun in church. Eight other states allow concealed carry of a gun with permission from the church. Twenty-three states allow churches to ban concealed carry if they do so. Every other state is little different from the remaining states. In Louisiana, if you carry in a church, you have to have eight hours more training on top of your concealed carry training.
One survey in Texas claimed that about 20 percent of the evangelical church congregation was probably carrying a gun on any Sunday.
Does a concealed carry law restrict certain kinds of firearms? When you say “concealed carry,” does that mean it’s a pistol?
When we talk about concealed carry, we are talking about a pistol, which by definition is a gun with less than a 16-inch barrel. The most popular, fastest-growing area of gun sales is the super-small, lighter-weight pistols because they are more capable of being concealed. The smaller the pistol, the easier it will be to conceal.
Open carry is a shotgun or rifle. You may do that in 41 states, though some states have restrictions on open carry. In Texas, you could walk into the church with a rifle or a shotgun unless the church has posted a sign prohibiting it. The odds of someone open carrying a gun into the church without an ill motive is very remote. I have yet to hear of a complaint concerning a law-abiding citizen carrying a rifle or shotgun into a church because it does not happen.
Are a growing number of women carrying?
Yes. We even had a class at our church for concealed carry for women. Some new reports state that the number of women applying for concealed carry permits has doubled over the last five years.
In the aftermath of the Charleston shooting, were your church clients in contact with you regarding security measures? Do events like these bring out that response?
Churches do not contact me about security concerns because I am not a security consultant. I hope they are contacting their security providers: their alarm system people, their security company, or their local police departments. The church must have a written plan in place, and they need to update that plan to deal with whatever might happen, including an active-shooter situation.