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St. Louis Faith Leaders Criticize Bill Allowing Guns In Houses Of Worship

Handgun illustration, guns
LA Johnson
/
NPR

A measure in the Missouri legislature that would allow guns in places of worship is receiving backlash from St. Louis faith leaders.

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of the Archdiocese of St. Louis held a press conference Wednesday alongside other area faith leaders to voice opposition to the legislation. Rozanski said adding more guns jeopardizes everyone’s safety. Instead, he said there needs to be a bipartisan effort to celebrate life.

“We need to work against the violence that we see making headlines daily,” Rozanski said, “and not invite the very weapons that make those headlines into our places of worship.”

The archdiocese does not allow weapons on its properties, including churches and schools. There's an exception, however, for active and retired law enforcement.

Rabbi Amy Feder, senior rabbi of Temple Israel and president of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, agreed that guns have no place where people worship. Her fears stem from a shooting in 2018 at Tree of Life Congregation, when a gunman came into the Pittsburgh synagogue and killed 11 people. Since then, she and leadership worked with local law enforcement and security training companies to keep her congregation safe.

“But in every single one of those scenarios that we try to prepare for, none of them are helped, all of them are hindered, if there are people within our own community who are carrying firearms,” Feder said.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Rodger Reedy, R-Windsor, was originally intended to help people protect their livestock from predatory animals. But several proposed amendments to the bill regarding guns also received approval, including lowering the conceal carry permit age from 19 to 18; prohibiting municipalities from restricting firearm businesses; allowing guns on public transit; and allowing guns in places of worship.

Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, sponsored the last amendment. During a heated debate earlier this month, Baker said that among his constituents, religious leaders asked for the legislation because they don’t want to be the arbiters of who can carry in their church.

“Pastors see it as creating unnecessary drama when they have to pick and choose who can and who cannot carry in a church,” Baker said.

He said religious institutions that do not want guns in their houses of worship do have the option of putting up a sign on their property to prohibit them.

Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, said the amendment is opening the door to more violence like that seen in churches across the nation. She said she doesn’t want to see another shooting like the one in 2015 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

“We are not supposed to have firearms on sacred ground,” Bosley said during debate over the amendment. “I’m just saying there needs to be a line drawn in the sand. Did we not witness a few years ago where a gentleman came into the church and killed nine people — massacred them — and we’re setting ourselves up for that right now.”

Bishop Deon Johnson of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri agreed that guns have no place in church. He said with suicides on the rise and an increase of mass shootings in the nation, adding more guns to a volatile situation would make things worse.

“Gun violence is the unspoken pandemic happening along with the other two pandemics of racism and COVID-19,” Johnson said. “As a follower of Jesus, my faith teaches me that places of worship are intended to be sacred ground to equip us to be peacemakers and peace casters.”

Several of the faith leaders who spoke at the press conference questioned whether such a bill pushes the boundaries of separation of church and state.

For his Episcopal diocese, Johnson said if the bill were to become law, as bishop he could issue a decree to all of the congregations that would prohibit guns.

Follow Marissanne on Twitter: @Marissanne2011

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