Guns in Maryland’s Churches? A Proposal from Two Harford County Lawmakers

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Two state legislators in Harford County are proposing a statewide gun policy change that would allow pastors to let parishioners bring concealed handguns to church.

Sen. Wayne Norman and Del. Kathy Szeliga will introduce the Parishioner Protection Act of 2018 when the General Assembly reconvenes next month, they said at a press conference on Tuesday. If enacted, the measure would allow congregants to bring permitted concealed handguns into their houses of worship, so long as they have approval from pastors, rabbis, imams and the like.

Harford County Sheriff Jeff Gahler joined the Republican legislators at the presser to endorse the idea. He said numerous churches have approached his office since the October mass shooting in Edgewood that left three people dead and two wounded, asking for active shooter training.

For context, he pointed to mass killings at churches, including the nightmares that befell the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in November, which left 26 dead, and the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in June 2015, which took the lives of nine people. He also noted a 2006 gunpoint robbery of a congregation at the Mt. Zion Church in Bel Air.

Churches, he said, represent a “vulnerable” place where criminals know they won’t be challenged. The bill is “giving the pastors the ability to decide for them to decide what it the best way to offer security in working with and for their congregations.”

The bill would technically apply to mosques, synagogues and other places of worship, though churches were the only category mentioned on Tuesday. Several pastors were there to support the proposal.

Szeliga, who spoke for about 30 seconds, posed it this way: “I ask you to think about a Sunday service or a Saturday or a Friday…and people come in with their back to the door and are not aware of what’s going on behind them. It leaves them vulnerable.”

Gahler suggested Harford County’s law enforcement presence simply isn’t heavy enough to protect the jurisdiction’s 500 or so places of worship. “It’s not gonna be the police that are going to be able to secure…all of these different locations at one time.”

Of course, the counter-argument to all of this is the potential for violence committed by the guns brought into a place of worship. Asked about the possibility of accidental shootings, Gahler said “people also need to be held responsible, to be responsible gun owners.”

“The need outweighs what I would say is a very insignificant risk,” he added.

Harford County’s lawmakers have been coming up with some disruptive ideas lately. In October, state Sen. Bob Cassilly and his brother, State’s Attorney Joseph Cassilly, announced their proposal to subversively use heroin and fentanyl as an execution cocktail to execute inmates. Maryland banned capital punishment four years ago, but the Cassillies said bringing it back and using such addictive, poisonous drugs could make a political statement.

Sheriff Gahler joined them for that presser as well.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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