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Church Gun Bills Teed Up In House, Senate

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The News Service of Florida
The Florida Channel
Dennis Baxley

Measures that would help clear the way for people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns at churches and other religious institutions are ready to go to the House and Senate floors.

The Republican-controlled Senate Rules Committee voted 7-5 on Thursday for the Senate version of the measure (SB 1048). Earlier in the day, the House Judiciary Committee voted 13-6 along party lines to approve the House version (HB 1419).

Under current law, people with concealed-weapons licenses can carry guns at churches and other religious institutions, but they are barred from doing so if schools are on the property. The bills seek to address that school issue, though some details of the proposals differ.

Crafted with an eye on a church massacre in Texas, the House measure would enable churches, synagogues or other religious institutions to allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns on property “owned, rented, leased, borrowed or lawfully used” by the institutions.

The Senate bill, however, was changed last week to get it through the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has blocked gun-related measures in recent years. The Senate version includes restrictions, such as a prohibition on carrying guns during school hours or when school extracurricular activities take place on the property.

Beth Dumond of the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America argued the House language could allow people to carry guns at prisons where religious services are regularly provided.

“There is nothing in this bill that specifies it’s talking about churches that have private schools on their property,” Dumond told members of the House Judiciary Committee. “I understand that is what they’re talking about, but that is not what it says. It says churches that hold services on properties can make the decision to allow guns for their personal safety, notwithstanding anything else.”

Rep. Daniel Perez, R-Miami, responded that he didn’t see any language in the bill that specifies a person could carry a gun into a prison, as Dumond claimed.

Lawmakers backing the overall change continued to use a deadly shooting in November at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, as an example of why the change is needed.

“As recently as November in Texas, it was on full display how vulnerable our churches are,” said House co-sponsor Lawrence McClure, R-Dover.

Senate sponsor Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said, “We can make a difference whether something is an incident or a massacre.”

On Nov. 5, 26 people died and 20 others were injured when a gunman started firing into a Baptist church from across the street, before making his way into the building. The gunman, who later died of a self-inflicted wound, was shot twice as he exited the Texas church.