New York’s new gun control laws are putting houses of worship at risk, reverend says

The laws were supposed to protect people, but they're leaving them vulnerable.

The First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs wasn’t the kind of place to make headlines. That is, it wasn’t until November 5, 2017, when an armed man entered the church and ended 26 innocent lives.

Sutherland Springs wasn’t the first mass shooting at an American house of worship, nor was it the last. Since then we have seen attacks at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, one at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in Poway, California in 2019, and other such tragedies. As a result of shootings like this, many states started looking at gun control laws in desperate hopes of preventing another such tragedy.

In New York, for example, a set of laws recently passed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in NYSRPA vs. Bruen sought to prevent them by barring guns from houses of worship.

For those who support such laws, it’s a no-brainer. If you want to keep guns out of churches and synagogues, you need laws to do so. The problem, however, is that mass shooters aren’t prone to following laws—and New York’s law is far broader than just trying to keep mass shooters out. 

For some, it’s making these places of worship less safe. The Buffalo News reports

“The Rev. Dennis Lee Jr. for years resisted the idea of carrying a pistol, despite pleas from parishioners that he needed one to protect himself in a high-crime neighborhood around Hopewell Baptist Church.

‘When I got out of the service, I just had a bad taste for pistols, for guns,’ said Lee, a Vietnam War veteran. ‘I basically went 40 years without touching a pistol.’

He changed his mind after a white supremacist in 2015 gunned down nine Black people at a Bible study in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. But now, he’s concerned New York’s efforts to ban people with gun permits from bringing firearms into places of worship will make him and his congregation less secure.”

You see, the issue here is that for people like Rev. Lee, the law’s only exceptions are for retired police officers or registered security guards. Yet many churches can’t afford to hire security, instead trusting fellow members of the congregation or the pastor himself.

Critics may argue that such a system won’t work. But it already has worked on multiple high-profile occasions. 

Perhaps the best-known example took place at the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas in 2020. There, a man came in and sat down wearing a long coat where he concealed a shotgun. At one point, while talking to one of the members, he drew the shotgun and killed the man, then turned and killed one more.

The rampage, tragic as it was, also happened to be brief.

It ended right then because one of the church’s volunteer security staff shot and killed the attacker.

The church lacked a full-time security staff, much like most other places of worship throughout the United States.

It’s not the only such case, either.

While places of worship should be free to determine what is and isn’t permissible on their property, much like any other property owner, the law in New York takes that authority out of their hands. Instead, it mandates with only narrow exceptions that places of worship will be gun-free zones regardless of what the congregation and leadership actually want.

It also doesn’t take any other factors into account, such as the risk to the congregation itself. After all, some places are targeted because of their faith, such as the two synagogue attacks mentioned previously, or the shooting in a mostly-black Charleston church in 2015 by a white supremacist.

Then there is the fact that many churches are in high-crime neighborhoods, where even if the church itself is safe, just outside the doors is a different story entirely.

Disarming people in the face of such threats isn’t good policy. It’s another example of demonizing guns without recognizing that they do stop bad people from doing bad things.

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Tom Knighton
Tom Knighton
Tom Knighton is a Navy veteran, a former newspaperman, a novelist, and a lifetime shooter who has increasingly focused on Second Amendment issues. He lives with his family in Southwest Georgia.