Guns on campus, in church

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

The Georgia General Assembly is discussing a bill that would allow guns to be carried on school campuses and in churches. Today, a local theologian criticizes such a a law that would harm the sanctity of churches, synagogues and mosques. In our second column, a gun-rights advocate argues that no law will be able to stop deranged criminals from slaughtering innocents, but legalized campus and church carry can help individuals protect themselves.

Commenting is open.

Guns in churches violate worship itself

By David Bartlett

A recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution headline read, “Voters: jobs yes, guns no.”

The accompanying article reported on a statewide poll that found that 72 percent of Georgians oppose changing current law to allow people to carry guns into churches, synagogues and mosques; and 78 percent oppose allowing students to carry guns on college campuses in our state.

The issue of gun safety requires the attention of all of us. But for people of faith, it demands that we address the particular question of carrying guns into religious spaces.

In many of our faith communities, the familiar term for the room where we gather for worship is “sanctuary.” Sanctuary means a holy place, or sacred space. In sanctuaries, we acknowledge the power and presence of God.

Worshipers come there praying for lives of peace and fellowship. Sanctuaries are meant to enhance peace, not conflict, and to enhance safety. A dangerous sanctuary is a contradiction in terms.

In Psalm 100, the Psalmist sings of going to the sanctuary: “Enter into God’s gates with thanksgiving/And into his courts with praise.” When we come to places of worship carrying thanksgiving and praise, we are carrying enough.

When we use sanctuaries for purposes other than the worship of God, we desecrate them; we deprive them of their holiness. When we diminish safety in our sanctuaries, we desecrate them, depriving them of their role as dwelling places for mercy and peace.

In sanctuaries, we attend to a rule that precedes and surpasses the rules our legislators may invent: “You shall not kill.” When we allow people to carry guns into places of worship, we violate the meaning of worship itself. We bring instruments of death to a safe haven meant to nurture life.

Nurturing life extends beyond our places of worship. Schools, particularly, represent inviolable spaces within the secular life of the community. People of faith must oppose any attempt to permit students to carry guns on our college and university campuses.

The familiar line — that the way to stop bad people with guns is to provide good people with guns — fails to recognize the number of times the very presence of a weapon in the hands of a college student increases the danger of death or injury for everyone, “good” people and “bad” people alike. The statistics on the frequency of gun-related suicides among teenagers and young adults remind us that for people under enormous stress, the last thing we want is to provide easy access to deadly escape.

We are bound to wonder why it is even imaginable that in the light of the overwhelming opposition of Georgians to expanding the carrying of guns, members of our Legislature would forge ahead with a bill so obviously unpopular and so patently dangerous.

We can only suspect that they are in debt to some interests other than the interests of the people who elect them, and directly in conflict with the interests of schools, temples, churches, synagogues and mosques in our state.

The Rev. David Bartlett is theologian in residence at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.

Lawful citizens should be able to protect themselves

By Jerry Henry

Citizens should never be disarmed in any location where crimes occur which includes, but is not limited to churches and colleges.

Churches are private property. The state of Georgia should treat churches as private property. The state of Georgia does not inject itself into the equation of whether Starbuck’s or any other private business allows firearms in their businesses.

Just last year, a lay preacher was shot in church while praying in College Park, a church that employs armed guards. The shooter was a former guard at the church. Fortunately, the shooter was only after one person and chose not to shoot any other worshipers. Other places such as Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook resulted in massive Gun Free zone infractions. If you feel churches are safe, Google “church shootings” and do some research. Not to be lost in history is Alberta Williams King. Martin Luther King’s mother was shot as she sat at the organ in the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. It was against the law for a firearm to be in church on that day as well. Did that help her?

Violent crimes on college campuses are rising while the opposite is happening in places where firearms are allowed. Just last year on college campuses in Georgia there were 38 forcible rapes, 46 aggravated assaults and 87 robberies. In fact, each year, the Business Insider – Law and Order Magazine rates the 25 Most Dangerous Colleges in America. Georgia Tech – #12 in 2011 and #11 in 2012. I believe the current policy has flaws.

Many people are under the false impression that if the state decriminalizes firearms on campus all students will be able to carry firearms. Only people over 21 years who have passed FBI, GBI and mental health background checks and who are already legal to carry in Georgia would be allowed. Why should licensed individuals be arrested for stepping across an invisible property line? They shouldn’t!

The chancellor of Georgia’s university system testified in 2010 against allowing guns in vehicles on college campuses. He stated the policy they have in effect is a good policy and did not want it change. He predicted that if guns were allowed in vehicles a student would get upset in class and go to their vehicle, get their firearm and come back and shoot up the class. Didn’t happen.

In 2013, the very same chancellor stated that he policy they have in effect is a good policy. He said guns could be kept in a vehicle and the working policy should stay in effect. Funny thing: 2010 – guns in cars bad; 2013 – guns in cars good.

When emotions enter the debate on campus carry, people bring up past history and the horrible mass shootings. Emotional people do not want to admit that in each of those incidents, the perpetrators of the crime broke numerous laws. No law would have stopped these monsters from committing their acts upon our most precious assets, our children. I do not believe we should we give the monsters more targets and opportunities.

Jerry Henry is executive director of the gun-rights group GeorgiaCarry.org.

13 comments Add your comment

Rev. George Tatro

January 27th, 2014
3:12 am

When the Book of Common Worship has a Liturgy of Long Guns, the Book of Common Prayer has a Prayer for Pistols, when phylacteries are filled with bullets, when prayer mats have a rifle pouch, it might be worth revisiting this horrid legislation. Until then the state is not telling you how to worship. If you attended worship you would know that our help does not come out of the barrel of a gun and that we don’t feel powerless but empowered in worship. Where do we think this help comes from?

Our help comes from the Lord. Psalm 121

Religion Major

January 26th, 2014
9:52 pm

The State has no business dictating the manner of worship to churches. The State has no business saying “…if you want to worship then you must do so only while helpless and vulnerable to attack or you will be locked up…” YOU have no right to use the State to dictate such things to churches.

Matt P

January 25th, 2014
11:19 pm

So I see a frenzied clutching of pearls regarding the rights of property, Jim Crow, and good form (?). As for the sacred right of property, on whose behalf so many apparently get riled up, have you heard of zoning laws? Or property taxes? I’d think those would be a far bigger affront to the rights of property owners than a restriction on bringing a concealed firearm into church.

I guess I should be careful mocking the concealed carry crowd, though. Look what happened to the poor guy who got in an argument at a movie theater with a guy with a gun. I guess he had it coming, texting in a movie theater, right? Or what happened to Trayvon Martin, who affronted another gun-nut by the act of… walking home with skittles?

Let’s be perfectly clear. Everyone walking around armed to the teeth, thinking everyone is a potential murderer out to get them? You’re not making things better. You’re making things worse. You are making the world a less safe place. And people are literally dying. And you’re worried about sarcasm? Give me a break.