If you’ve read the news, there’s a good chance that you’ve probably read about recent church shootings. Because a house of worship is quite literally a sanctuary, the violation of a such a sacred place shocks the conscience. Can you protect yourself and your fellow worshippers by bringing a firearm to church?
O.C.G.A. § 16-11-127(b)(4) forbids possession of a firearm in a “[i]n a place of worship, unless the governing body or authority of the place of worship permits the carrying of weapons or long guns by license holders.” The governing body will depend on the particular faith, denomination, parish, even potentially the individual church or house of worship; each is different, so make sure it’s clearly understood who may grant permission. Permission may be given orally or in writing (with written permission the clearest choice for proof), but may not be given selectively: if any one individual is granted the right to carry in the place of worship, all may exercise the right.
What is considered permission? In this matter, the “yes” must be loud and clear: only a “yes” will allow you to carry. Did the church say no? If so, carrying inside will be a misdemeanor, Weapons Carry License or not. Has the church remained silent on a decision to carry? Silence is also a “no”. The governing body’s decision to allow carry must be clear and unequivocal. Look for minutes of administrative meetings, written memo’s granting the right to carry, perhaps even recorded sermons or videoed services where the announcement is made publicly.
If the church says no, can you still carry? If you are a Weapons Carry License holder who carries in church without permission and you are caught doing so, you cannot be arrested. No arrest is to take place; by the plain wording of the statute, Weapons Carry License holders who choose to carry without permission may not be arrested if they are found in possession of a firearm on church property. That will not, however, deter police officers from handing you a citation and summoning you to face a judge for carrying a firearm in an un-authorized location. Should you be found guilty, the judge can only fine you $100 for a violation of O.C.G.A. § 16-11-127 (again, this applices only to license holders), but there is a significant unintended consequence: by virtue of O.C.G.A. § 16-11-129(H)(ii), the probate court who issued the offender’s Weapons Carry License will revoke his or her WCL for a period of five years:
Any person who has been convicted of… [c]arrying a weapon or long gun in an unauthorized location in violation of Code Section 16-11-127… and has not been free of all restraint or supervision in connection therewith and free of any other conviction for at least five years immediately preceding the date of the application.
O.C.G.A. § 16-11-129(H)(ii)
A non-license holder found in possession of a firearm at a place of worship without permission is subject to arrest and will be punished by a misdemeanor if convicted.
Many in this day and time wish to protect themselves and their families from harm by carrying a firearm; carry to a house of worship is no exception. If you carry to church, please, know the law, and have a plan to protect yourself. Call the attorneys at Hawkins Spizman Kilgo, we can help.