As we celebrate this Holiday Season, there are a lot of us who will be attending Christmas services, including some late-night services. Many will want to carry their handgun for protection, and we at Texas and U.S. Law Shield want to make certain that our members understand the laws of their states with regards to carrying a handgun into a church, synagogue, or other places of worship.
To get the answers, we turned to our Independent Program Attorneys for their input. Here is what they had to say.
Texas Law Shield Independent Program Attorney Gordon Cooper provided this advice to our Texas members:
“Under Texas law, it is completely legal to carry into a church or other place of worship, so long as you have a License to Carry.
“However, it does become prohibited if there is a posted 30.06 and/or 30.07 sign, or if you have received verbal notice not to carry a firearm within the facility.
“So, in Texas, if you want to carry your handgun with you into a service this Christmas, you may do so legally so long as you are licensed and you have not been given notice, either by the proper signage or verbally that guns are prohibited.
“One caveat is that if your church is conducting a school program as an educational institution at the time, you should avoid that section of the church if you are carrying.”
“Finally, we have a new law this year regarding carrying your ‘location-restricted knife’ into a church or other place of worship. If your carry knife has a blade of more than 5 ½ inches (from tip to guard), you MAY NOT carry it into a church. This is true with or without signage.”
“Have a safe Holiday Season.”
For our Colorado members, U.S. Law Shield of Colorado Independent Program Attorney Doug Richards had this to say:
“Colorado has no specific law prohibiting an individual with a Concealed Handgun Permit from carrying their weapon into a place of worship.
“But, under the law as a private property owner, the church may prohibit firearms. You need to check with your particular church as to what their policy is towards firearms before attending a service this Christmas.
“Another question that I frequently get is ‘what if someone wants to carry a weapon into a church/synagogue/or other place of worship that has Sunday School (or other education services) on the premises?’ CO’s concealed carry law creates an exception to allow one to carry within a public school if contracted as a school security officer and performing duties pursuant to that position. We have thus recommended that you obtain specific authorization first and then you may carry under this exception. Colorado law does not address concealed carry with a lawful permit on private school grounds. As such, you need to check with the property owner regarding their firearm policy.
18-12-214(3)(b) creates an exception whereby a permittee who is retained as a school security officer may carry a concealed handgun onto the property of a public school while the permittee is on duty.
A Sunday School or other educational service associated with a place of service is likely going to be a private institution. 18-12-105.5(1)(d) creates a specific exception to concealed carry with a lawful permit but then goes on to say it is still unlawful if the person is carrying in violation of 18-12-214(3). That statute only says it is unlawful for a permittee to carry on public schools. By omission, I take that to mean a permittee can carry on private school grounds. Federal law is generally consistent.
“Best wishes this Holiday Season.”
U.S. Law Shield of Pennsylvania Independent Program Attorney Justin McShane provides this input:
“Law Abiding Gun Owners (LAGOs) can legally possess a firearm in church the same way they could anywhere else that is not a prohibited place. Of course, this isn’t limited to churches of a particular religion or denomination. Pennsylvania is a very gun-friendly state. As such, there are no specific laws that prohibit guns in churches. There is one notable exception and that is if the church also houses a school of any grades K-12. Even when school is not in session, if that church shares the same building as a school, some some District Attorneys, such as in Philadelphia and its suburbs, still take a strong position that firearms are prohibited.”
“Churches, like any other property owner, can prohibit firearms if they so choose. These types of private “no gun” policies do not carry the force of the law. As such, the most the church can do if you bring a firearm is ask you to leave.”
“There are no laws specifically prohibiting carrying in a place of worship. Like anywhere else, however, use caution and have a safe and Merry Christmas”.
U.S. Law Shield of Oklahoma Independent Program Attorney Robert Robles has this specific advice:
“My advice to USLS members who want to carry a handgun into a church/synagogue/etc. is that churches, synagogues, and places of worship are not specifically prohibited places under Oklahoma Statutes, 21 O.S. section 1277. However, the church or place of worship may prohibit the carrying of firearms on the premises, by placing appropriate signs.
“A person having a CCL, may legally carry a firearm in a church or place of worship as long as the owners of the premises do not prohibit the carrying on the premises. The question becomes a little more problematic when the church has a school on the premises.
“Oklahoma law defines schools, both public and private: generally public schools are free schools supported by public taxation, and private schools are generally defined as any privately owned, nonpublic entity that receives remuneration that is approved for a state authorization license and provides post-secondary education, or provides vocational-technical education prior to the person obtaining a high school diploma or its equivalency. There are many exceptions to the licensing requirements of a private school, most exceptions have to do with the requirement of state licensing to be a private school. Section 1277C allows a private school to set policy allowing the carrying of firearms on school property.
“But what if the church offers a Sunday school program? If a Sunday school or a religious school does not charge fees for the education and does not have to be licensed in order to teach children about the faith, then the school probably does not meet the requirement of being a school in the section 1277 sense. But if the religious school has a teaching curriculum with the object being to meet some state standards or licensing prerequisites and charges a fee for the education, the Sunday school may be a private school according to the definition which prohibits the carrying of firearms under section 1277 of the Self Defense Act. However, the school’s governing entity through appropriate private school policy may allow the carrying of firearms on school property.
“For example, a church could decide to charter a primary school located in the church building, collect fees for teaching the children their ABC’s, hire licensed teachers, and comply with all state requirements to charter the school. What happens to the church building? It becomes a school building. One can’t carry a gun on school property on Saturday or Sunday when school is out. So, the church grounds become school grounds. The church may inadvertently become a place of worship located at a school instead of vice versa. It thus becomes very important for the school and the church to have separate physical identities and make decisions as part of school policy concerning the carrying of firearms on the school premises.
“It is generally a good policy to refrain from carrying a firearm in all schools for the simple reason that a school is a designated prohibited place and one can never know whether the private school allows the carrying of guns on the premises. Unless the school falls into one of the exceptions written in section 1277 and 1277C or the school is not a school covered by section 1277, one could get in big trouble carrying their pistol on school grounds.
“I hope this answers your question about carrying a gun into a church service.
“May you and your family have a safe and wonderful Holiday Season.”
For our Virginia members, U.S. Law Shield of Virginia Independent Program Attorney Mitch Wells had this to say:
“According to the law, a private property owner, such as any place of worship may prohibit firearms.
“If there is no private property firearms ban, then gun owners need to be aware of Va. Code § 18.2-283, which states that it is unlawful for any person to carry any gun or other dangerous weapon into a place of worship while a meeting for religious purposes is being held unless there is a good and sufficient reason. According to a Attorney General opinion dated April 8, 2011, personal protection is considered to be a good and sufficient reason to carry a firearm.
“Best wishes this Holiday Season.”
For our members in the Show Me State, U.S. Law Shield of Missouri Independent Program Attorney John Schleiffarth had this advice:
“Missouri law has a specific prohibition when it comes to allowing guns in places of worship. Specifically, RSMo §571.107(14) states that guns are not permitted in any church or other place of religious worship without the consent of the minister or person or persons representing the religious organization that exercises control over the place of religious worship.
“However, keeping a firearm in a vehicle in the church parking lot is not a criminal offense so long as the firearm is not removed from the vehicle or brandished while the vehicle is on the church’s property.
“If you have a concealed carry license or endorsement, carrying a gun into a church is not a criminal act but you may be denied access to the premises and possibly removed from the premises. If you refuse to leave and a peace officer is summoned, you may be issued a citation for up to one hundred dollars for the first offense. If a second citation for a similar violation occurs within a six-month period, you can be fined up to two hundred dollars and have your permit, and, if applicable, endorsement to carry concealed firearms suspended for a period of one year. If a third citation for a similar violation is issued within one year of the first citation, you can be fined up to five hundred dollars and have your concealed carry permit, and, if applicable, endorsement revoked and you will not be eligible for a concealed carry permit for a period of three years.
“The law further states that anyone carrying a firearm or any other weapon readily capable of lethal use into any church or place where people have assembled for worship without a carry permit or endorsement commits the offense of unlawful use of weapons, a class B misdemeanor. (RSMo §571.030. 1.(8) and RSMo §571.030. 8.(2))
“So if you plan on attending a Christmas service, leave your firearm locked in your car in the parking lot.
“Have a wonderful Holiday Season. Merry Christmas.”
We turned to James Phillips, Independent Program Attorney for U.S. Law Shield of Florida, for the law in his state.
“A person is allowed to carry at church so long as there is not a school, daycare or preschool on the church property. Under Florida Law a firearm is not allowed on school premises regardless if the school is open or closed. Therefore, even if the school is not open during church services or the school is located in a separate building than where the church service is being held, an individual will be prohibited from carrying a firearm on their person, even if he or she possesses a concealed weapon’s license.
“Furthermore, if a church does not have a school, daycare or preschool on its property but has “No Gun” signs posted, then an individual is still not allowed to carry on the property. “No Gun” signs posted on the property gives an individual notice that he is not invited onto the property if he is in possession of a firearm and if he or she decides to ignore the sign then he or she is committing an armed trespass, which is a third-degree felony.
“So, before you decide to carry to church you need to answer two questions
- Does my church have a school, preschool or daycare on the property?
- Have I been informed either by posted “No Gun” signs or other means that guns are not allowed on the property?
“If your answer is ‘no’ to both questions, carry on, but if you answer ‘yes’ to either of these questions, then leave your firearm at home.
“Best wishes this Holiday Season from our families at Katz & Phillips, P.A., to yours.”
Matt Kilgo, Independent Program Attorney for U.S. Law Shield of Georgia had this advice for our members in the Peach Tree State:
“As many of you will be attending religious services this Holiday Season, you should be aware of the impact the recently passed Safe Carry Protection Act has on places of worship.
“Basically, the law DOES prohibit carrying weapons into a place of worship, UNLESS the governing body or authority of the church explicitly grants permission to holders of a weapons carry license to carry their gun in the church. Therefore, if a church does not “opt-in” or vote to permit weapons on its property, then weapons are not allowed.
“Without that “okay” expressly given, no person may carry into a place of worship. That also means if the church officials do nothing, that is the same thing as not granting permission, so no weapons will be permitted on church property.
“There is an exception for licensed individuals who notify church security or management of their weapon and follow management’s direction “for removing, securing, storing, or temporarily surrendering such weapon”, as well as for a license holder who possesses a weapon in his or her car, or secures the weapon in a locked compartment of the vehicle in a parking facility owned or operated by the place of worship.
“If you violate the law but have a carry license, you will not be arrested but you will be cited and fined up to $100 and could have your carry license revoked. If you possess a weapon in the church without a carry license you are subject to being arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.
“Another important thing to remember is that if the church has a school on its property, Georgia law prohibits carrying guns onto any property owned or leased for a public or private elementary or secondary school. Therefore, arguably, a church with a school cannot grant permission for anyone to carry a weapon on their property, except for law enforcement or school security officers.
“So if you plan on going to a place of worship, make certain you know the church’s policy on guns and whether there is a school on church property.
“Enjoy this Christmas Season with your family and have a safe new year.”
Evan Nappen, the Independent Program Attorney for U.S. Law Shield of New Jersey, offered this advice for people who live in or may be visiting the Garden State:
“As almost all gun-owners know, New Jersey has some of the most strict gun laws and regulations in the nation. New Jersey generally prohibits the knowing possession of a handgun in any place other than one’s own property or place of business without a permit to carry a handgun. Carry is so limited in NJ that there are no specific gun laws regarding private property. If there is a sign prohibiting carry and someone violates it, then arguably they are a trespasser.
“If you are able to successfully navigate the daunting tasks the State makes you endure in order to obtain a permit to carry a handgun and actually get a permit, then you may legally carry your gun into a church.
“So, there you have it. You need a permit to carry a handgun in order to carry one in a church.
“Have a safe and wonderful Holiday Season.”
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