Churches can still choose to allow, bar firearms

May 22–Oklahomans now have further legal protections if they use deadly force while defending a house of worship from an attacker.

House Bill 2632, authored by State Rep. Greg Babinec, R-Cushing, is law with Gov. Mary Fallin’s signature, and extends the “stand your ground” doctrine, which allows people to use firearms or other dangerous measures if they believe their lives are in danger, to churches, mosques, synagogues and temples.

The law does not require any house of worship to allow firearms on its premises — that remains optional. But if a church comes under attack — as in the Charleston, South Carolina, or Sutherland Springs, Texas, shootings — Oklahoma parishioners may retaliate with little fear of prosecution.

Locally, some churches don’t seem to worry about whether the congregation is armed. Churches don’t generally run parishioners through a metal detector, but some have prohibitions against firearms.

“We allow concealed carry, but no open carry,” said Pastor Buddy Hunt of First Baptist Church of Tahlequah. “We also have a volunteer team, and it now pays a police officer to attend Sunday morning services.”

Scott Wolff, deputy for the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, is also a pastor for First Southern Baptist Church of Keys. He said the congregation is in no way inspected for firearms.

“It is kind of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,'” Wolff said. “There are no rules or policies.”

Conversely, there is the First Presbyterian Church, where Rev. Annette Haskins said “we do not allow firearms.”

The bill, which amends state law regarding physical or deadly force against an intruder, goes into effect in November, and offers protections against civil and criminal liabilities if a parishioner finds it necessary to use any type of deadly force to stop someone from committing dangerous violence inside places of worship.

While the measure is welcomed by many firearms advocates, the protections of Section F, stating that the defender is “immune from criminal prosecution and civil action,” gives others pause. Interpreted liberally, a parishioner might open fire on an active shooter and inadvertently gun down more people than the perpetrator, and legally be in the clear.

HB 2632 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives by a 68-24 vote. State Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee, and State Rep. Matt Meredith, D-Tahlequah voted in favor. State Rep. Will Fourkiller, D-Stilwell voted nay.

The bill passed the Oklahoma Senate 42-1 with the support of State Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, and State Sen. Wayne Shaw, R-Grove.

In an online poll at tahlequahdailypress.com, respondents were asked to pick a response that most closely matched their opinion on “guns being taken into houses of worship.”

Of 30 respondents, 14 said they strongly disapproved of guns in houses of worship, and plan to continue attending services.

Another three said they strongly disapproved, ad planned to stop attending church for that or other reasons.

Five respondents said they had conflicted views on the issue. Five said they approved, and planned to carry firearms. Three said they approved, but would not carry.

During the TDP Saturday Forum on Facebook, there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm for the law among those who responded.

Craig Parrish found some language puzzling — believing the definition of a “house of worship” to be vague.

“If the church … truly wants a safe place for its parishioners, why would they not hire a professional security detail, thus keeping weapons out of the hands of its congregants,” wrote Craig Parrish. “I just simply can’t imagine a good outcome where a building full of people open fire on something, be it real or imagined.”

Ariel Gallimore wrote, “All I can say is … thank God I don’t go to church.”

One respondent saw passage of the law making little impact on the ground.

“I don’t think this changes the environment much,” wrote Joey H. “For churches that allow people to carry firearms, they are already there. For churches that don’t allow them, they still won’t allow them. This just affects what happens after an incident.”

Jesse Crittenden contributed to this report.

This article provided by NewsEdge.