Lawmakers in Texas want to make it clear to licensed handgun owners that they can bring weapons into churches, synagogues and other houses of worship.
The measure would codify an opinion Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued in 2017, roughly a month after a gunman killed 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Paxton determined at the time that licensed handgun holders could legally carry in places of worship unless given “effective oral or written notice” from the property saying otherwise.
The legislation would reduce penalties for licensed handgun owners who bring weapons into prohibited areas by mistake. But it would also increase the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony for an armed individual who refuses to leave a prohibited area after receiving a warning.
State Sen. Donna Campbell (R), who introduced the bill in January, said the measure would give houses of worship the power to determine their own rules regarding licensed handguns.
“Churches need to be able to set their own policies and that was the intent, to give clarity so they can,” Campbell said after filing the bill, according to CBS Austin.
Campbell also used rhetoric popular among gun rights advocates, claiming “a good guy with a gun” is the best first line of defense against shooters.
Many gun control advocates, however, reject that logic. And some studies have shown that expanding concealed carry laws actually leads to more violent crime.
A National Bureau of Economic Research study last year found that “allowing citizens to carry handguns seems to increase violent crime 13 to 15 percent by the 10th year” after such laws are enacted, according to study co-author John Donohue, a Stanford University law professor.
A majority of Americans are in favor of implementing stricter gun laws, according to a recent poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The survey found that 67% of Americans say U.S. gun laws should be stricter, while 22% favor leaving existing laws in place. Ten percent think current gun laws are too strict.
Eight states and Washington, D.C., currently prohibit firearms in houses of worship without express permission from the property, according to the AP. Wyoming lawmakers last year passed a measure allowing licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons in houses of worship.