After the mass church shooting outside San Antonio on Sunday, the Texas attorney general suggested more guns should be in churches to thwart the next massacre.
“We’ve had shootings at churches for forever. This is going to happen again,” Ken Paxton said. “We need people in churches, either professional security or at least arming some of the parishioners or the congregation so that they can respond ... when something like this happens again.”
There are two churches in Utah that would have to change their policies to make that happen.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the faith with which more than 60 percent of Utahns affiliate, and the Jewish Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City have both taken steps required under state law to prohibit guns on their premises.
Utah law severely restricts where guns can be barred. Aside from mental institutions, courthouses, airports and jails, which have heavy security, religious institutions and private residences can enact policies to ban guns from their places of worship.
To do so, religious institutions must notify the public of their intent to restrict firearms, and the Department of Public Safety makes a list available on its website. Only two have done so.
Violation is an infraction punishable by a fine of up to $750.
If the Mormon church and Kol Ami were to heed the advice Paxton, the Texas attorney general, gave Sunday during an interview on Fox News, they’d need to change course and welcome guns.
LDS Church policy restricts “lethal weapons” at church.
“Churches are dedicated for the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world. The carrying of lethal weapons, concealed or otherwise, within their walls is inappropriate except as required by officers of the law,” the Mormon church says on its website, lds.org.
Representatives from Kol Ami and the LDS Church didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the policies.
Both faiths have a history of gun violence. A man was convicted of a federal hate crime and sentenced to five years in prison after he fired a pistol at the Kol Ami synagogue in Salt Lake City “because of the religious character” of the congregation, according to the FBI.
A man shot and killed an LDS bishop in a California church in 2010 before he was killed in a shootout with police. In 2008, David Ragsdale killed his 30-year-old wife Kristy Ragsdale in a church parking lot in Lehi.
But there have been no mass killings like the one Sunday at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, about 40 miles southwest of San Antonio, or another in June 2015, when nine people were killed while worshipping in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
For Jeremy Roberts, an active Mormon and staunch advocate of gun rights for people who can legally possess them, it is appropriate for churches to ban firearms in their confines.
“If God’s not telling my prophet we need more guns in our churches,” Roberts said, “I believe when they say we don’t need more guns in our churches.”
He said churches are private institutions that can legally prohibit weapons if they wish, and that Utah’s Legislature has taken steps that aim to prevent gun violence, such as suicide-prevention efforts.