On Nov. 5, a gunman took the lives of 26 worshippers gathered at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. When Devin Patrick Kelley open fired during service, he also wounded another 20 victims. Stephen Willeford, who lived nearby, heard gunshots and charged into the church wielding his own gun—hitting Kelley in the leg and torso. Willeford and a motorist later chased Kelley as he fled. Kelley then was found dead in his car.
The Sutherland Springs shooting sparked renewed debate about whether guns should be allowed in churches, as a means of protection. Texas governor Dan Patrick believes it shows how the right person, with a gun, can be a hero: “Everyone in the state was very thankful for the brave Texan who stopped the attack through the exercise of his Second Amendment rights.” Texas Republicans called for more churchgoers to arm themselves on Sundays.
This week, state attorney general Ken Paxton said that unless a church explicitly forbids guns, any licensed carrier is allowed to bring in a loaded gun. In Texas, an attorney general’s legal opinion has the force of law unless overruled by the state’s legislature.
Texas has fairly lenient gun laws: Once licensed, a person can carry loaded handguns, openly or concealed. And Texans carry in almost all places—at church, at work, and in their cars. The former Texas Republican senator Jerry Patterson once said that he always carries—“There are no more ‘safe places’ in our world” (paywall).
Texas has issued more than 1 million gun permits. Only one state, Florida, has issued more (1.7 million).
Transferring the burden to churches comes with its own problems. Churches that bar guns must post government-approved signs on their walls—a rule that may dissuade churches worried about tarnishing their sacred space.