The chilling video showing last week’s church shooting in Texas recalibrated the debate over personal firearm possession — more specifically, carrying firearms inside places of worship. All the world witnessed in vivid reality what 2nd Amendment advocates have been saying for a very long time: the answer to a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy (or gal) with a gun, especially in places where the density of innocent and vulnerable people is high. Like in a school, or a mall or movie theater, or in a church on a Sunday morning.
This issue has been particularly salient in places like Idaho and Utah, where pro-gun members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are wrestling with a relatively recent church-wide policy change. In August, leaders raised the bar of in-church gun possession from a loophole-laden “inappropriate” to an unambiguous “prohibited.” (Law enforcement excepted.)
Interestingly, the policy change came right after Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that allows firearms, open or concealed, in places of worship unless expressly prohibited. For that reason the policy was rolled out in Texas shortly before its global implementation.
In my on-air radio discussions with fellow church members, I would say about two thirds of them who packed before, pack still. Passionate about defending their families and loved ones, they don’t seem to have too much hesitation stepping around the word “prohibited” in a policy handbook subject to regular change.
Other church members, comfortable with carrying guns but not with violating official church policy, vowed to do the best they could. One caller, not joking, shared that he equips himself each Sunday with a bright flashlight, laser pointer, and is ready to throw hymn books at an armed intruder. I hope his hymnal-throwing skills are solid, because if they’re not, the tactic will likely only bring attention to himself and the precious people around him. (Bless his heart.) Another listener also not comfortable with the policy change, worried about his own spiritual standing if he violated the policy. (I’m not his judge, but I shared my belief that a decision made in good faith between two seemingly contradictory sets of principles will probably not jeopardize his soul. Life is filled with these lesser-of-two evil choices.)
I’ll admit, I was puzzled and a bit frustrated by the policy change. I have no concern with a requirement to keep firearms concealed, but full prohibition was not expected. While I understand the desire to maintain a sacred peaceful atmosphere in a place of worship, inadvertently advertising a crowded venue as a gun-free zone doesn’t seem like a great idea to me. Don’t we want would-be intruders to be uncertain and afraid? Prohibiting guns — and publicly announcing it — will embolden assailants.
Furthermore, the policy creates a conundrum for congregants who’ve been taught all their lives to be self-sufficient, to protect their families, and that innocent life is sacred. I don’t know of anyone on this particular issue who wants to be flagrantly disobedient to either doctrine or policy, nor do they want to abandon important time-tested teachings about who we are and how we are supposed to be. And for many — especially those living in a culture in which guns are not primarily a symbol of death or carnage — this policy designed to promote peace in a place of worship, actually can create greater angst and feelings of physical vulnerability.
If you watch the early moments, before the shooting, of the Texas video, it appeared to be a peaceful gathering. And indeed it was. What we learned after watching is that several members of that congregation were carrying a concealed weapon, all instantly appearing ready to stop the evil. Their possession of firearms did nothing to detract from peaceful worship. For the most part, those who carry concealed firearms are well-trained and responsible, and do so in a way that is not a distraction.
In fact, not being detected is precisely the point and tactical advantage of concealed carry. Not being detected also means not disrupting the peace of a worship service.
Imagine if you subtracted all of the legal guns from that Texas church. Two innocent people dying is two too many, but how many would it have been had responsible gun owners been barred from protecting themselves? In a fallen world with the potential for deadly evil — evil that we’re reminded of regularly — having the capability to defend a congregation of innocent worshippers seems to me a peaceful deterrent and a force for good.
Associated Press award-winning columnist Neal Larson of Idaho Falls is the author of “Living in Spin.” He is a conservative talk show host on KID Newsradio 106.3 and 92.1, and also at www.kidnewsradio.com. “The Neal Larson Show” can be heard weekday mornings from 6:00 to 10:00. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org