As Dallas and the rest of Texas crept slowly to the Christmas vacation Thursday afternoon, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton addressed a matter of religion for many Texans. State law, he said, allows for people with licenses to bring their handguns into places of worship, unless a church, synagogue or mosque explicitly says otherwise.
“If a church decides to exclude the concealed or open carrying of handguns on the premises of church property, it may provide the requisite notice, thereby making it an offense for a license holder to carry a handgun on those premises,” Paxton wrote in a legal opinion requested by Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. “However, churches may instead decide not to provide notice and to allow the carrying of handfuns [sic] on their premises. Unless a church provides effective oral or written notice prohibiting the carrying of handguns on its property, a license holder may carry a handgun onto the premises of church property as the law allows.”
Patrick pushed Paxton to clarify state law after the Nov. 5 massacre at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. Devin Kelley shot and killed 26 people in the church and wounded 20 others. An armed neighbor shot him twice as he exited the church and fled in his truck. Kelley killed himself a short time later.
"I know many are thankful for the Texan who stopped this attack through the exercise of his Second Amendment rights," Patrick wrote to Paxton on Dec. 1. "However, I believe our state laws provide more protection than many Texans realize."
The lieutenant governor, who's also famously touted the value of prayer in the wake of mass shootings, pushed Paxton to clarify Subsection 46.035(b)(6) of the Texas Penal Code, which says that a licensed handgun owner violates the law if he or she carries his or her gun on the premises of a church, synagogue or other established place of religious worship.
According to Paxton's opinion, the ban on carrying in church only applies if the church puts up signs banning guns from its property. The attorney general also affirmed Patrick's claim that churches are exempted from paying fees to the state for licensing private security, thanks to 2017's Texas Senate Bill 2065.
Since the Sutherland Springs shooting, many churches have sought out training from law enforcement agencies and others on how an armed congregation can protect its members from shooters. At a Denton Police Department training session earlier this month, Officer Shane Kizer stressed the value of preparing for the worst.
“It is very unlikely that you will have one of these events at your place of worship, very unlikely,” Kizer told about 100 people who gathered for the conference. “That being said, I think that this is the sign of the times. We're going to see more and more of this happening. It's too easy to go somewhere, plan something and wreak havoc in America, unfortunately. We're just not prepared for it.”