JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — In the wake of the horrific church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Missouri State Representative Rocky Miller says he’s taking action to help keep local congregations safer.
Miller has filed a bill for the 2018 legislative session that would remove the liability for churches if their members opt to carry a weapon on the premises.
On Friday, Miller announced, “House Bill 1382, takes this liability away and allows for people that attend church to defend themselves or at least have someone nearby that can.”
He added, “If a church decides it does not want to protect its members, then they still can post ‘no weapons.’ I unfortunately do not have this level of faith that I want to be in an area that declares itself a target.”
Missouri law creates provisions for citizens to concealed carry and open carry a weapon. But there are plenty of places where concealed carry is restricted: schools, government buildings, polling places, and churches.
Missouri Revised Statute 571.107 lists the places where a person—even with a concealed carry permit—may not carry a weapon. Subsection (14) states:
Any church or other place of religious worship without the consent of the minister or person or persons representing the religious organization that exercises control over the place of religious worship. Possession of a firearm in a vehicle on the premises shall not be a criminal offense so long as the firearm is not removed from the vehicle or brandished while the vehicle is on the premises;
According to a legal analyst Miller's office consulted with, that “consent of the minister” language could open the church up to legal liability, in the case of an accident or other situation in which self-defense was not a factor. As a result, it can be difficult for churches to obtain or maintain affordable insurance if they opt to have a security guard or security team that carries concealed weapons.
The Texas church shooter wore a flak jacket and tactical gear, but was stopped by a neighbor with an AR-15.
A local pastor—who preferred not to be identified—explained his reason for wanting the law changed.
“The issue I'd like to see removed is the necessity of receiving permission from the minister. This makes the church liable for their actions,” he said. “Bottom line- I don't want the church to be a place people cannot legally carry their firearm unless they get my permission.” Church members can be authorized to carry mace or pepper spray, but that’s the highest level of defense they can muster without exposing themselves to massive liability.
Churches are no strangers to mass shootings in America. The National Church Shooting Database (yes, there is one of those) lists 137 church shootings between 1980 and 2005. But according to psmag.com, The Center for Homicide Research has found that in the next decade—from 2006 to 2016—there were 147 church shootings. Though, psmag.com notes, the data suggests churches aren’t more likely to be targeted than other publicly accessible places.