By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
June 4, 2021
Thursday, the North Carolina House passed SB 43 – Protect Religious Meeting Places by a 70-38 margin. The measure had already passed the Senate back in March; however, because the House version contained a few amendments (which were mainly non-consequential to the bill’s substance and primarily technical), the legislation had to be sent back to the Senate for concurrence.
SB 43 would allow concealed carry of guns during worship services at churches where a private school is also housed. Currently, churches in these circumstances are not allowed concealed carry or to develop their own security teams.
Debate of the bill on the House floor was lively and long, with Democrats expressing concerns about the proliferation of guns and Republicans contending for the God-given and constitutional right to self-defense.
Democrat Rep. Mary Belk (Mecklenburg) was quite dismissive in her remarks, arguing the proposal should be rejected because churches also associated with private schools can always hire trained security.
Belk said, “One of the deterrence is when you see law enforcement, they can bring their vehicles, you know, you see it. If somebody is going to do harm, if they see law enforcement, they can bring their vehicles, they might say this is not a place they want to be…I don’t know that we have to say, let’s have people in the congregation who have concealed weapons in churches where there are school facilities. I don’t think that’s necessary when we do have people, and that is what their profession is – to keep us safe.”
Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort), known to be an ardent advocate for gun rights, countered Belk’s contentions first by asking Rep. Jeffrey McNeely (R-Iredell) if there was any place in the legislation that required a church to conceal carry. McNeely, who was running the bill, answered in the negative. Kidwell then explained that churches could always post a sign which said no firearms permitted.
“We always talk about the choices that we want to make on the Left regarding other issues, but we don’t want to give people a choice to defend themselves… it’s their choice whether or not they want to carry; it’s their choice whether or not they want to defend their family,” said Kidwell. “We talk about the cost. Evidently, it doesn’t matter that it costs the churches money to hire these private security firms or the police to come in and defend them; what can be done at no costs.”
McNeely also responded that he had talked to his own Sheriff and learned that such cost would be considerably high for churches having multiple meetings each week.
“One of the biggest deterrents to stop somebody from going into any structure and executing a crime is that somebody in there might be armed,” said Kidwell. “If you look at things like school shootings and church shootings, when they know there’s going to be armed people, bad guys don’t go in.”
Rep. James Gailliard (D-Nash), unfortunately, was even a little more dismissive in his remarks than Belk. Gailliard said he would vote no on the proposal, not because it had the word “gun” in it. Instead, he said both he and his wife had concealed carry, and his son was a Nash County Sheriff’s Deputy. But he added that he was going to vote no “because it seeks to address a problem that just, quite frankly, doesn’t exist.”
Gailliard shared several statistics by which he claimed one “was three times more likely to be struck by lightning than to be shot in the church.” But, he added, “We’re not passing legislation that if it happens to be stormy on a Sunday, we would pass some kind of legislation against God.”
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, who was monitoring the debate, said Rep. Gailliard’s comments on the House floor were, in his estimation, “respectfully, pseudo-intellectual nonsense.”
“To say that the church shootings that started back in 2007 – the three that took place in that year alone. The additional shootings which have taken place in 2008, 2009, 2012, 2015 – the three shootings again at churches in 2017, others in 2018, 2019, and 2021 are a non-existent problem, either reflects gross selective blindness or a terrible form of intellectual dishonesty,” said Creech. “I should also add that as a black pastor, Gailliard should remember the black parishioners killed in Charleston and the Jews killed in their synagogue in Pittsburgh. Church shootings are a crime of equal opportunity. The bill responsibly addresses a real need, where churches that double as places of worship and schools are quite vulnerable and at risk. It is wrong to deny them a right to which they are already entitled.”
All Republicans voted for the bill, and five Democrats crossed over to vote with Republicans on the initiative.
The bill currently resides in the Senate Rules Committee and will likely be taken up sometime next week.