[The following was submitted to present at the Committee Hearing for HB 48 — Ohio’s version of “Guns Everywhere” bill on June 10, 2015]
Chairman Maag and Members of the State Government Committee:
Church has been a part of my life since I was a young child, all through my growing up years and all through my children’s growing up years. For the last 15 years I have served the church as ordained clergy in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) where I have served churches as their Senior Pastor. I’m here today because I believe that expanding CCW rights to any of the previously prohibited places mentioned in HB 48 (daycares, institutions of higher learning, etc.) is a bad idea. But my statement is specific to the changes for houses of worship because that is where my experience is centered.
I am a Christian pastor who believes that faith communities have traditionally been – and must continue to be – places of sanctuary. By definition: Sanctuary is a sacred place. By definition: Sanctuary is a safe haven. Church fits both definitions. Church is where we go to commune with God, together with others. Church is a house of prayer and encouragement. Church must be inclusive of all persons. Church is a place of love and acceptance where we learn how to be God’s active messengers of love, peace and justice in the world.
That message of love and acceptance and that place of sanctuary (both definitions) are especially important for our children and youth. In the congregation I served in Cleveland Heights, I was pastor to a large number of middle school and high school youth and their parents. Those youth attend several different school districts in Cuyahoga and surrounding counties. To my surprise and shock, I became aware that every one of these children has been on school lockdown at some point in their schooling. They not only know the drill, they have seen it for real. Some of our youth experienced the danger first-hand from that horrible February Monday when T.J. Lane shot and killed 3 high school students and caused lifelong injury to 2 others. Those teen-agers know the danger because they were there in the Chardon High School cafeteria to witness it. It was just months later when the Newtown massacre of first-graders happened, and as a pastor, I was once again faced with helping those kids deal with their fears and anxieties. Our children know these situations are real. They know they could be victims themselves.
It is especially critical now in these times of too much violence in our culture, that our children know church as sanctuary — definition safe haven. A safe place where they can express their fears. A safe place where they can freely talk about anything. A safe place where they will not be bullied. A safe place where weapons have no place. One Sunday, two of our youth noticed a man in church who was carrying a gun. They were understandably frightened, and they did what kids are supposed to do. They told an adult, and the situation was quickly dealt with. Thank God, it was safely handled. From the advice of our local police department, we began displaying no weapons signs on all entry doors. We did this to reinforce the current law in place that prohibits guns in places of worship — unless an individual church decides to permit them. In other words, no church that wants firearms is prevented from allowing them. But for every other church (including mine) that has relied on this exclusion, HB 48 will put the burden of responsibility on them to keep guns away. With HB 48, will the No Guns Allowed signs on the doors likely be ignored? Will churches need to go to the trouble and expense of metal detectors and bag inspection as a regular part of Sunday morning worship? Will places of worship need regular lock-down drills? I pray not.
There is no evidence that most churches want firearms on their premises. There is no evidence that a majority of Ohio faith leaders are clamoring for more firearms in church. And so, Ohio’s elected officials should not consider a new law that presumes that firearms are welcome in Ohio churches. Nor should any new law force Ohio faith communities to take action to exclude them. Instead, lawmakers in Columbus should consider the tens of thousands of people outside of the Statehouse who want their places of worship to remain places of peace. Churches that are sanctuary – sacred spaces and safe
havens – are a powerful presence that have positive and rippling effects on entire neighborhoods and communities.
Guns are dangerous. The presence of a gun always increases the possibility of accidentally misplacing it and of accidentally discharging it. The presence of a gun increases fear and the intimidation (whether intended or not) of other persons. The presence of a gun increases the potential for deadly and injurious confrontation if the armed person loses his or her composure. There are no compelling reasons to increase these dangers in churches because there is no credible evidence that churches with no guns allowed are any more dangerous than places where guns are permitted. There is no credible evidence that allowing guns in churches will make people safer than they are without guns. As to the rights of CCW permit holders to carry their firearms everywhere, these persons represent a very small minority of the adult population in Ohio. Expanding their rights ignores the rights of all of the rest of us Ohioans who wish to have places where we can be free from being close to persons carrying concealed and loaded firearms.
As to guns being our protection: A church looks to God as our ultimate source of protection. As to wearing a gun in church even as we are passing the peace with others in the pews: As a follower of Jesus – as a Christian — I am called to a standard of loving my neighbor – a definition of neighbor that includes even my enemies. It will take my lifetime to meet that standard. If you are a Christian, you join me in that lifetime of work. If we believe – and we legislate – that we can only safely interact with other people if we arm ourselves against them, we will never get even get close to that standard.
I am a follower of Jesus. Jesus commands that we put away our swords. Swords were the weapon of choice in the 1st century. I believe Jesus would command us to do the same with today’s weapon of choice – a concealed carry gun. There is no place for guns in our houses of worship.
Reverend Kristine Eggert
** With no advance notice to us, Chairman Maag began the session by informing all testifying witnesses that HB 48 was going to be amended and that places of worship would be removed. The amended version was voted on and passed, but not unanimously, and with objection from members of the Committee and other testifying witnesses. While we celebrate this decision, we do so with caution. It is still a terrible bill, and we are under no illusiion that the provision for churches will not come up again. With this change, I ended up giving spontaneous testimony making many of the same arguments for why daycare centers should also be removed. As of the time of writing this, the amended bill has still not been posted for the public to see.