ST. LOUIS – St. Louis area religious leaders united Wednesday to speak out against controversial legislation focusing on bringing guns into places of worship.
St. Louis Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski is among those opposing the bill. He joined 11 other faith leaders who addressed their concerns about the bill.
“We should not have to do this. It is a clear violation prohibiting the free exercise or religion and freedom of speech,” said Rozanski.
House Bill 944 overwhelmingly passed the Missouri House of Representatives last week by a vote of 109 to 36. It’s now in the Senate for consideration. The bill would allow Missourians with concealed carry permits to bring guns into churches, synagogues, and mosques without the permission of the congregation’s leader.
House Bill 944 was sponsored by Rep. Rodger Reedy from Mid Missouri. Originally, the bill started as a measure to allow farmers to shoot a predator attacking their livestock from their vehicle. Then, the scope quickly expanded, allowing guns in churches, declaring firearm businesses essential, and lowering the concealed carry permit from age from 19 to 18.
“Whether or not congregations allow legal weapons on their premises is a decision congregations alone should make, not the Missouri legislators,” said Rev. Traci Blackmon, Associate General Minister of Justice and Local Church Ministries with the United Church of Christ.
Rev. Blackmon also said expanding conceal and carry laws to remove the autonomy of religious institutions to determine their own level of safety is not in the interest of the common good.
Currently, people need approval from religious leaders to bring firearms into places of worship in Missouri.
The legislation would also allow those with a concealed carry permit to have guns on public transportation including buses. The legislation however does not apply to Amtrak or any of its partnerships.
Rozanski also said the bill would change the current legal recognition of churches and houses of worship as gun-free zones.
Missouri doesn’t require a concealed carry permit for gun ownership, but having a permit allows gun owners to bring weapons into some areas in the state that would otherwise be restricted.