Before the General Assembly approved Missouri’s new concealed-gun law, the Rev. David Casto of Bethel Church and his wife, the Rev. Bonnie Cassida, rented “Bowling for Columbine,” a film about gun violence in America.
Now Casto jokes that perhaps Cassida should operate a gun-check at the door before their Sunday services.
The reverends can rest easy at least for a while, however, because a judge on Friday issued a temporary restraining order preventing the new law from taking effect. Still, the prospect of people bringing guns to their places of worship has been on the minds of area ministers.
While the law passed by the legislature allows concealed guns in churches with approval of ministers or church governing bodies, none of several preachers contacted last week said they plan to allow them.
“We call the place we worship a sanctuary for many reasons, and one of those is that it is a place of safety,” Casto said. “I am opposed to this legislation, and it is a grave concern of mine for anyone to carry a gun.”
“If one looks at the issue and at the statistics, personal guns do not make us safer,” Casto said. “They create a situation where there is a potential for children to be injured, there is a potential for guns to be used in haste. They create an opportunity that doesn’t need to be there.”
Tom Parton, pastor at Cornerstone Fellowship, has a different view. While he agrees with the conceal-and-carry legislation and is considering talking to church leaders about developing a policy to address the law, he said he would try to convince parishioners that there’s no need to bring a gun into church.
“If someone came in and said they had a weapon on them, I would ask why,” Parton said. “I would try to assure them that nothing would happen to them during the service and try to get them to leave it in their car.”
The Rev. Scott Griffin of First Church of the Nazarene also opposes guns in church, but he sees no need to broach the subject with his congregation.
“We’d be surprised if people bring a firearm into church,” Griffin said. “Our main task is to provide worship; someone bringing a firearm to church isn’t there to worship.”
Still, like Parton, Griffin supports the conceal-and-carry law.
“I come from a family where guys were trained to shoot,” Griffin said. “I think we’re often too afraid of a gun — it’s too bad because it is the behavior that’s the problem. A gun can be used for protection; it can help stop crime because people can be taken advantage of.”
Parton noted that, under the new law, people with weapons have gone through screening.
“It’s not usually the people who have permits that you need to worry about,” Parton said. “It is the people who don’t have permits to carry that you need to worry about.”
At Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Monsignor Michael Flanagan will prohibit guns in church, and he doesn’t expect parishioners to bring them.
“No way will guns be allowed in church or on church property,” Flanagan said. “Guns are for killing — I don’t care what people say about defense — guns are for killing and they have no place in church, which is about peace and healing.”
Flanagan said he hasn’t discussed the law with his congregation, but he might do so through a church bulletin or an announcement after Mass.
“I realized maybe people take it for granted,” Flanagan said. “If I address the congregation, maybe people will understand why guns aren’t allowed.”