Licensed gun owners can bring guns into Texas churches that do not have posted signs prohibiting them, according to an opinion Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released Thursday.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had asked Paxton for a clarification of the law this month in the wake of November’s mass shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. State law says handguns aren’t allowed on church premises, but Paxton said in his opinion that churches, just like private businesses, must provide notice prohibiting guns. Those that don’t post such a notice, he said, allow guns.
“If a church decides to exclude the concealed or open carrying of handguns on the premises of church property, it may provide the requisite notice, thereby making it an offense for a license holder to carry a handgun on those premises,” Paxton said in a news release. “However, churches may instead decide not to provide notice and to allow the carrying of handguns on their premises.”
Paxton also said churches are exempted from state fees that are charged to businesses for creating volunteer security teams.
Patrick applauded Paxton’s decision Thursday.
“I believed our state laws provided more protections than many realized and I requested the opinion to make sure that Texans are clear about our laws, especially when it comes to church security,” he said in a statement.
Some churches across the state already allow their congregants to carry handguns onto the premises, said Kyle Childress, pastor of Austin Heights Baptist Church in Nacogdoches. Over the past year or so, Childress has published several pieces in Christian magazines about the issue, including one about his congregation’s recent decision to prohibit guns in the church.
“There is a fundamental question about who is the church and what are we about. Are we going to be gun-carrying and put trust in redemptive violence?” Childress told the American-Statesman. “I don’t believe the way of Jesus Christ teaches that.”
Instead of guns, Childress’ church has tried to improve security by having more ushers greet people outside of the church and keeping more eyes on entrances. But even those strategies have limitations, he said.
“If somebody wants to get in, they’re going to get in. So, we, like other congregations, are exploring what are ways we can be more aware of safety without compromising our lordship of Christ,” he said.
Twenty-six people, including a fetus, were killed and 20 others were injured after 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley rampaged through the Sutherland Springs church during a Sunday service. Patrick in his statement Thursday applauded a civilian who shot Kelley as he exited the church and chased him in his car before Kelley turned the gun on himself.
A family that lost three of its members in the shooting are suing Academy Sports and Outdoors, which sold Kelley the assault weapon that was used in the massacre.
The family says the retailer never should have sold the gun to him, even though the retailer has said employees performed the required background checks, the San Antonio Express-News reported.