Religious leaders come out against looser Missouri gun laws

A Kansas sheriff released a statement Friday about his plan to arm school staff in an attempt to deter school shootings in his county.
A Kansas sheriff released a statement Friday about his plan to arm school staff in an attempt to deter school shootings in his county.

Faith leaders from a broad spectrum of denominations say they are strongly opposed to legislation pending in Jefferson City that would allow concealed weapons in places of worship without permission of the clergy.

First, Catholic bishops who comprise the Missouri Catholic Conference issued a joint statement that said they wished "to address the senseless gun violence that is occurring in our schools, on our streets and in our inner cities."

The bishops also back other "reasonable and sensible gun regulations."

In addition, an interdenominational group of religious leaders will hold a press conference Wednesday in St. Louis to oppose the legislation.

In their statement, the bishops specified opposition to one House bill in particular that would allow people to carry a concealed weapon into a church without the permission of the presiding clergy. The bill is sponsored by Republican Rocky Miller of Lake Ozark.

Another bill, which has been voted out of committee, would greatly expand the places where concealed weapons are allowed, with or without a permit. Sponsored by Republican Jered Taylor of Nixa, the bill would allow concealed weapons not just in churches but also in college buildings, bars, voting polls, casinos, amusement parks, governmental meetings and hospitals.

"The problem right now is our gun-free zones where people aren't allowed to carry guns, and this is what this tries to defeat," said Rep. Shawn Rhoads, a West Plains Republican and chair of the House Rules and Legislative Oversight Committee, which backed the bill 8-3.

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"We acknowledge that there is a right to self-defense," the bishops countered this month. "Many Catholics and people of good will are gun owners and law-abiding citizens who would never consider the use of lethal force unless it was necessary to preserve human life."

But they point out that if people were allowed to carry concealed weapons to church without permission from the minister, then churches that wish to remain gun-free would have to post signs prohibiting them. The bishops called that "highly offensive" and a violation of religious liberty.

The interdenominational group, including leaders of Catholic, Jewish, Methodist, Episcopal and other faiths, also objects to a potential violation of the First Amendment right of religious freedom.

"Our pastors, rabbis and leaders should not have to place signage in our sacred places to prevent weapons from entering," the group said in announcing the press conference.

"Additionally the proposal could threaten the public safety of our religious school campuses and day-care centers as 'conceal carry zones' are extended into these places," the group said.

The bishops said they must "seriously consider reasonable and sensible gun regulations in order to protect human life from the kind of gun violence we are currently experiencing in our country."

Both groups favor outlawing "bump stocks" that make semi-automatic weapons even deadlier, universal background checks for gun buyers and limits to high-capacity ammunition magazines.

They also are in favor of improving access to and increasing money for mental health care and other interventions before a gun owner becomes violent.

The bishops' statement was signed by Robert J. Carlson, archbishop of St. Louis, James V. Johnston Jr., bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, W. Shawn McKnight, bishop of Jefferson City and Edward M. Rice, bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.

In March, lawmakers moved ahead on the legislation just days after students marched for stricter regulations in the wake of the Florida high school shooting.

Thousands of people filled Kansas City's Theis Park on Saturday, part of a national wave of March for Our Lives protests to end gun violence.