Having been alerted by this newspaper to a legislative proposal to allow guns in churches, and specifically Section 571.107 about exceptions to unlawful use of weapons, here is what House Bill 944, contains:

“(8) Carries a firearm or any other weapon readily capable of lethal use into any church or place where people have assembled for worship, or into any election precinct on any election day, or into any building owned or occupied by any agency of the federal government, state government, or political subdivision thereof;”

There is a lot more, but the above language is part of a long list that is not allowed.

But, as is usual with legislative matters in Jefferson City, the devil is in the details, and, sure enough, HB 944 contains language that allows Paragraph 8, as cited above.

This took a bit of head-scratching, but my stint as a lobbyist in the Missouri Capitol stood me in good stead, and I looked for and found the devil in the details.

What I found was most discouraging, perhaps even disastrous. What would be deemed an offense is turned on its head in HB 944. So, the language above is negated, and the bill allows guns in churches.

Wait, what?

While there have been a number of shootings in churches and houses of worship, the most media coverage was devoted to the shooting at the Black church, Emanuel AME Church, in Charleston, South Carolina.

But there have been others: at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, where 11 people died; at the First Baptist church in Sutherland, Texas, where 26 people were killed in 2017; the Sikh Temple in Oak Park, Wisconsin, in 2012, where six people were killed and many others injured. The Associated Press has compiled a list of them, but as inclusive as this article is, it lists only those church shootings since 2012.

That, then, is where those in the state legislature are set to fly in the face of facts. While there have been many church shootings, the state legislature, actually a committee thereof, has voted to allow guns in church. On the upside, the bill does not require that churches allow concealed firearms, but only that it is up to the church whether to do so.

There is, however, a problem. If the firearm is concealed, how will the church know that someone — perhaps with an intent to kill or do harm — has such?

In short, HB 944, while no doubt well-intentioned, gives cover to those carrying a concealed firearm in church. While the bill does recognize that a policy to allow or to ban concealed weapons is up to the church — and religious freedom as defined by the U.S. Constitution — the language of HB 944 renders concealed carry in church toothless.

There have been many shootings in churches across this country. But the language of HB 944, Section 571.107 allows more. Is this nuts, or what?

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