The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has explicitly banned guns from its houses of worship. According to a new church policy that went into effect earlier this month, all parishioners except police officers are prohibited from carrying “lethal weapons” onto church property.
The handbook had previously described carrying weapons to church as “inappropriate.”
Church spokesman Daniel Woodruff told The Washington Post that a letter detailing the policy change was first sent to local leaders in Texas and shared with the 360,000 or so church members there. The letter, Woodruff explained, was sent following a recent change in state law that will permit licensed handgun owners to carry weapons in churches, synagogues and other places of worship unless they are explicitly told otherwise.
The same letter will soon be sent to other local leaders, Woodruff said.
“Churches are dedicated for the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world,” the updated handbook entry says. “With the exception of current law enforcement officers, the carrying of lethal weapons on church property, concealed or otherwise, is prohibited.”
As NPR noted, several gun incidents have been reported on Latter-day Saints church property in recent years, including a fatal shooting at a Nevada church in 2018 and the murder of a Mormon bishop at a California chapel in 2010.
The policy change also follows several mass shootings in houses of worship in the United States.
Members of the Latter-day Saints church ― whose history is steeped in the culture of the American West with its guns and its hunting ― tend to be politically conservative and share similar views with evangelicals when it comes to gun control.
The Post, quoting Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University, noted that members of the church overwhelmingly support background checks, but are split on whether assault rifles should be banned or if concealed-carry permits should be easier to obtain.
Members of the faith appeared similarly split on the church’s new gun ban.
Ty Andersen, a Mormon and gun owner who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, told the Salt Lake Tribune that he respected the church’s decision.
“I feel strongly that private entities should have the right to place limitations on people carrying firearms on their property,” Andersen said. “I attend a [congregation] where police officers are present, and I feel reasonably safe at church.”
But Janalee Tobias, a church member and gun rights activist in Utah, was critical of the new policy.
“It’s concerning that they are making us a soft target,” Tobias told the Tribune. “Criminals are cowards and these shootings occur in places that don’t have guns. You always want your enemies to think you are protected.”