Canonist looks at Arkansas’ legislation for churches to determine concealed carry weapon policies

Prof. Ed Peters, canonist, has an thought-provoking post at his blog In The Light Of The Law.  He looks at a few canonical points regarding the state, a diocese or a parish can/could/should ban the carrying of concealed weapons from places of worship. The key concept in the issue seems to be subsidiarity – letting the decisions be made at the most local level feasible.

Subsidiarity shows up in some unusual places
by Dr. Edward Peters

[…] when I saw that an Arkansas bill to allow churches to decide whether to allow guns on site was being opposed by, among others, the Diocese of Little Rock, I thought, Hmmm…is there canon law angle here?  [Bp. Taylor is in Little Rock.  ]

Currently, Arkansas is one of 10 states to prohibit persons with carry-permits from bringing weapons into places of worship; the Arkansas bill would allow each church to make that carry-decision for itself. As such, this proposal seems like a simple exercise in the vaunted principle of subsidiarity, the amply-ecclesiastically-endorsed principle by which polices affecting people should be made at the most appropriate—usually the lowest and thus most responsive—level of authority feasible. So, if the State wants to accord individual churches the right to make policy on just about anything, I say, bully for the State. It certainly seems preferable to encouraging the State to impose its policies on churches, even if, in the short run, they are policies with which churches would agree. Dangerous precedent, that, as history teaches us time and again. Anyway, back to canon law.

Assuming this bill becomes law—and setting aside some questions I can’t answer about how Arkansas defines a “church”, etc.—canonically, it seems to me that, as parishes are “juridic persons” under canon law (c. 515 § 3) and pastors represent parishes in juridic affairs (c. 532), local pastors get to make this call. For several reasons (cit. om.), I think a prohibition against carrying would have to be announced if that were desired as policy in a given parish.

That said, I think a bishop would have the authority (c. 381) to prohibit Catholics (as subjects of canon law) along with others (by dint of civil law) from carrying weapons in any Catholic sacred place (c. 1205). Of course, enacting such a policy would require of ecclesiastical leadership a conscientious weighing of its pros-s and con-s (including an assessment of the trend in recent years whereby lunatics target schools and churches as places packed with defenseless victims), of the enforceability of any policy as might be enacted, and of the consequences envisioned for violation of such a policy (which consequences might run up against certain canonical rights, say, to receive sacraments). In short, I don’t think there’s an obviously right, or wrong, answer to this one. [Right or wrong?  Not sure.  Easy or hard?  Definitely HARD!  So, maybe it is one which bishops would do well to stay away from?]

So, with all that on the table, maybe I sympathize a bit with the idea of letting the State decide this one for us. But only sympathize, not agree with.  [okaaaayyyyy….. ]

NOT an easy question.

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  1. brushmore says:

    In my opinion, it’s really not the state’s business to tell people that they can’t conceal carry in a church. That’s the church’s decision.

    As for what should the Bishop prohibiting conceal carry in a sacred place, my question would be what is the Catholic teaching on conceal carry in general?

  2. Supertradmum says:

    This is crazy. I wish those Copts who have been and still are slaughtered in Egypt, those Iraqi Catholics who have had to leave their houses and neighbourhoods, and those Christians in Bethlehem down to 40% of the population in 2005 from 85% in 1948 had guns when forced to leave or see their families killed.

    I betcha my ancestors on the prairies had their rifles with them when they went to Church in Iowa, the Dakotas and Oregon. My great-grandma talked about Indian attacks on the cabins in Iowa. Hey, we have a right to defend ourselves and I do not want pacifists telling us we cannot do so…..Are there any men left? I am sure men brought weapons with them to Church for more centuries than not in Europe and elsewhere. We are just spoiled for having years of peace.

  3. Bea says:

    Gun Control?
    I wish parishes would practice “Dress Control”.
    Here comes summer around the corner with spaghetti straps, mini skirts or no straps at all.

  4. frjim4321 says:

    Hmmm, this will be interesting to follow.

    Personally, I always find it comforting knowing that some highly trained law enforcement persons attend mass regularly here. One was in the Secret Service on the presidential detail for many years. He is MORE than welcome to carry a weapon into church in order to protect the innocent in the event of an emergency.

    On the other hand, I have a couple friends who went out and bought guns and got carry permits who (1) never fired a weapon before, (2) have very limited experience with weapons, and (3) have no law enforcement training. I really would not want them to carry in church because it is possible if not likely that they would do more harm than good.

    In the middle of the spectrum, I have a couple who are friends (she was the music director at a previous parish) of which all the family, father, mother and three children, are all highly trained with weapons but no law enforcement training. I have gone shooting with the father and I think if there were a problem in the church I really would prefer for him to be armed.

    So, a lot of this has to do with the level of training and experience.

    I keep my Remington 870 under my bed, but that’s for self-protection in the dead of night without any/many innocents in the area. I don’t think I would be qualified to take my weapon with me into church, though.

    (Can you imagine the press? “Local Pastor Packing Twelve Gauge in Church”)

  5. wmeyer says:

    Bea, I wish parishes would practice EMHC control. Oh, wait, they do. What I wish is that the priests would practice EMHC control, as given in the rubrics, and worry less about screaming from some noisy members of the spirit of Vatican II crowd.

  6. wmeyer says:

    frjim, another tremor. We agree on the value of those tools called guns, as well as on the need for training in their use.

  7. Tristan says:

    Why would the Church ever reject the right to govern its affairs? If the State imposed, either that the Church must allow or must not allow legally owned and concealed weapons, then I would expect an objection. But to say, “No, don’t let us decide for ourselves seems like a bad idea.

    I suppose the only possible reason is the diocese doesn’t want the decision to be up to the pastor, but that seems readily remedied..

  8. Tristan says:

    Yeah, ok, so the real reason for objecting to being given the right to decide is a blanket objection to anyone having the right to carry. But it seems like that’s the protest to lodge.

  9. frjim4321 says:

    frjim, another tremor. We agree on the value of those tools called guns, as well as on the need for training in their use.

    And not even a full moon.

    I get great pleasure taking my 870 apart and cleaning it. Almost as much fun as firing it. I have around 135 rounds of 1-ounce rifled slugs, probably not the best for home defense. I think Remington makes a “defender” round and I would like to get a few boxes of that.

    I’ve been told that the 870 was the most devastating infantry weapon in Vietnam using rounds packed with razor-sharp flechettes. I don’t think they are available, and I think they might be illegal.

  10. moon1234 says:

    In Wisconsin at least, if a business or any other entity denies the ability for licensed citizens to concealed carry or denies open carry, they become tort liable for any gun crime committed on their premesis. The reverse provides immunity from prosecution.

    What this means in plain english is that if you deny a person the ability to carry a gun on your premesis, you can be sued by that person should they be harmed while on your premesis. If you allow weapons to be carried on your property you are granted immunity from prosecution from anyone who is harmed on your premesis.

    Taking the recent Sandyhook example, if this were Wisconsin and it was a Church instead of a school, all of the victims could sue the Church for physical and emotional harm if the Church prevented them from carrying a weapon to defend themselves.

    Wording statutes this way gives companies and individuals a choice, but it makes them liable should they choose to not allow people to defend themselves.

  11. frjim4321 says:

    BTW, my 870 is about 20 years old and is finally nicely broken in. Action has a great feel now.

  12. fvhale says:

    Dear Tristan, you asked “Why would the Church ever reject the right to govern its affairs?”

    I immediately thought of building codes, fire safety codes, handicapped access laws, waste collection regulations, and a pile of other areas where my local parish and diocese are not in any way free to “govern its own affairs.” As a physical entity in the world, there are many areas where the Church must cooperate with and follow along with various government and public agencies.

  13. Jeannie_C says:

    Just by way of comparison, and not to make any form of comment on the US gun control issue, up here in the entire COUNTRY there are fewer than 200 carry permits issued, and most of those are issued under the “wilderness” clause, where a firearm is a real necessity at times (the fauna up North are not tame or friendly) – The permit is legally obtainable, but is rarely issued.
    Oh, and one needs a separate permit to buy ammunition, as well..
    Far removed from the days of my youth when you could buy a rifle or shotgun in one of the major dept. stores. (or in the town I grew up in, the hardware store..) Shows you the way laws can change on you. Granted the Constitution up here is vastly different.. Still.. a warning example? sure could be..

  14. Tristan says:


    There’s a difference between abiding by State laws and regulations and demanding the State impose them.

  15. Supertradmum says:

    frjim, I like you much better now that I know you have an 870 and know how to use it. Good on…

  16. Former Altar Boy says:

    It’s because of those “lunatics [that] target…churches as places packed with defenseless victims” that I am always armed in church and have been for 20 years.
    Quaeritur: if the assailant comes in to kill the priest or members of the congregation simply because they are Catholic and I die defending him/them, do I win my “Get of Purgatory Free” martyr’s card?

  17. PostCatholic says:

    Have another tremor, wmeyer. I own a Glock pistol and have had (do not any longer, as the need has passed) a permit for concealed carry in my state.

  18. EXCHIEF says:

    The state of Arkansas may well decide the issue and I don’t argue that Bishops can (but should they?) step in on this issue. Having said that the cop in me would make the folloowing points. #1 There have been shootings in churches and in at least one case (Colorado) an armed person in the congregation clearly saved lives by engaging the gunman before he could add to the death toll. #2 Cops will respond as quickly as they can to active shooter incidents and over the past decade most cops have had good active shooter response training. However, best case scenario, due to time and distance, is a 5 minutes response. #3. All random mass murder incidents over the past decade have resulted in the greatest number of causalities occuring in the first several minutes. #4. An analysis of all such incidents has shown that the shooter will either flee or commit suicide as soon as an armed individual challenges him/her. The speed at which that happens is a function of who is already there on site, armed, and available to confront QUICKLY. It is NOT a function of law enforcement responding.

    I addressed this subject, in terms of schools, in my column in the brand new (March 2013) issue of American Cop Magazine. I believe the same rationale applies to any place (including churches) where people congregate. That article can be found here

  19. Supertradmum says:

    How about the local Churches making a stand on birth control instead of gun control……….

  20. moon1234 says:

    The question about breaking into Churches and killing parishoners is a pointed one. Has anyone seen Cristiada? Do you think the soliders of that time would be quite as willing to break into the Church if they knew they would face armed resistance?

    Many people will say “That will NEVER happen in modern society” yet it happened less than 80 years ago just south of our borders. Even the US rounded up Americans of Japanese descent around 60-70 years ago. It can and WILL happen again if people are lax in defending their rights.

  21. EXCHIEF says:

    I should have added that since 1968, when I entered law enforcement, I have always carried a concealed firearm in Church…even on those (unfortunately) rare occasions when the TLM is offered in our area and I serve in cassock and surplice. My fellow TLM server is a retired federal LEO and he carries as well. One of the few times that an ankle holster works better than any other kind :)

  22. fvhale says:

    Wisconsin Catholic bishops dealt with this in November 2011 when the state allowed concealed carry:

    Wisconsin Catholic bishops are asking parishioners to avoid carrying guns into church, now that a new law permitting residents of the state to carry concealed weapons has gone into effect.

    “Intuitively, we understand that acts of violence, destruction, and murder are antithetical to the message and person of Jesus Christ and have no rightful place in our society, especially sacred places,” the bishops said in a statement on Monday on the eve of the law’s Tuesday enactment.

    “Whatever an individual parish decides to do regarding its policy on concealed weapons, we ask that all people seriously consider not carrying weapons into church buildings as a sign of reverence for these sacred spaces.”

    The statement was jointly issued by Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki and four other bishops from Madison, La Crosse, Green Bay and Superior. The bishops said a decision on whether to ban concealed weapons was up to individual churches.

    The bishops said, “Please don’t” but apparently punted the matter down to the parishes.

    From another angle, church security seems to be a growing business area these days, as most churches could probably be seen as “soft targets.”

  23. acardnal says:

    When I lived in metro-DC, a friend of mine was an FBI agent and he carried under his suit during Mass and when acting as a lector and an EMHC. Ya just never know when a gun may be needed.

    I remember during an overcrowded Christmas Mass, I observed some bozo walking up the aisle and approaching Father while he was giving his homily from the ambo. I was on the other side of a very large interior and was thinking the worse. I saw the man get about 12 feet from Father and say something; then the bozo turned and walked away. I asked Father later what the man said. Father said the man told him to shut up and finish. (Perhaps a little too much Christmas cheer before Mass.)

  24. mamajen says:

    I think in general I would feel much safer knowing that at least one trustworthy person in the parish was carrying a weapon. We’ve had odd characters wander in during mass once in a while (sometimes with backpacks) and it’s hard not to become distracted with worry about what they might do. Of course I’m NOT saying they should be shot on sight just for being odd, but if some kind of situation were to break out, it would be nice not to be a sitting duck.

  25. Bea says:

    I remember reading about an incident on Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro (a Mexican martyr for the Faith) when he was studying in Spain. He was on a train with another seminarian and a train-full of Communist-Socialists. They started harassing the Seminarians and brought out their guns. Father Pro kept his cool and said “I am better armed than you” (or words to that effect) as he brought out and held up the crucifix that he carried in his pocket, It had an immediate calming effect on the harassers.

  26. iPadre says:

    You can make all the laws that you want, but bad people, people should will be used by the devil will not obey the law. And, those who are going to do something evil are not going to hide anything, they will go in gang busters. Today’s problem is not guns or concealed weapons , but amoral people who have no concept of the dignity of human life. We have to build a culture of life. That is the only answer, not all this window dressing. All the politicians care about is popularity and reelection. The Titanic is sinking, why are we rearranging the furniture?

  27. Suburbanbanshee says:

    If you outlaw weapons in church, you outlaw the Knights of Columbus and the sword arch at military weddings.

    Not really seeing the Bishop of Little Rock get warm fuzzies from the sword guys, unless he’s just demanding that people carry swords and guns openly instead of concealed.

  28. Shamrock says:

    Who knows? Maybe some of our Bishops might be saying “NO” to carrying but they will get about
    as good a response about that as they do to most things they say these days. I come from a part of
    the country ( rural Pa) where everybody just about carries…and there is no doubt in my mind, given the tenor of the times, that at any given mass we have the “armed” worshipping around us.
    As for me, I rely on my Guardian Angel and St Michael….to protect me and my family from all
    harm, most especially spiritual.

  29. EXCHIEF says:

    Relying on your Guardian Angel and St Michael is a good idea. I do that too. After all, St Michael is the patron Saint of cops and all Sheepdogs who protect the innocent from the wolves. I carry just in case St. Michael happens to be busy at a critical time :)

  30. dillyra says:

    People will carry in Church even if the Church or law doesn’t allow it. The people will always protect our clergy and faithful.

  31. Andy Lucy says:

    “People will carry in Church even if the Church or law doesn’t allow it. The people will always protect our clergy and faithful.”

    Yes… muzzling the sheepdogs usually results in the wolves being able to snatch more sheep at no danger to themselves.

    Fr Jim… flechettes are, in fact, available. However, depending upon your locality, they may, in fact, be verboten. They are not in my state of residence. And their efficacy is greatly overstated. Their utility in Vietnam was primarily due to their ability to penetrate dense foliage that would have made buckshot ineffective. However, for personal defence, what I have discovered is that a combination of sabot slugs and 0000 buckshot, alternating, is very effective. The first shot, a slug, placed centre mass will have serious effect, even if the subject is wearing body armour… physics will win every time. The follow up with buckshot can then be utilized to neutralise the threat, should it be necessary.

    I prefer my pistol, with frangible rounds, for home defence. I never have to worry about overpenetration with those. And my house is small, so a pistol is easier to maneuver.

  32. Phil_NL says:

    Ok…. So that Italian custom of having an honor guard, preferably in full military or police uniform and armed (often enough with an automatic weapon), in churches for special occasions is suddenly not part of our Catholic heritage? And of course, that custom developed only because it looks pretty? I think not. Mind you, that is in gun-fearing Europe.

    I don’t see allowing people to carry guns as such a hard question. The hard question is when to use them. (and that question is equally hard in any environment with loads of innocent bystanders around, church or not).

  33. Tim Ferguson says:

    I’m neutral on whether the diocese should permit carrying a beretta into a church, but I wish some bishops wouldn’t come down so hard on those clerics who wish to carry a biretta into a church.

  34. Fr AJ says:

    Ha! Good one Tim! A few years ago my bishop got wind I was packing a biretta on Sunday’s and Holy Days and called me in to the chancery and told me to put it back in the holster, so to speak.

  35. acardnal says:

    Fr AJ, what reason did the bishop give you for not wearing one?

  36. SonofMonica says:

    I’m in the Diocese of Little Rock, and I don’t see this being a problem for the bishop. So many people wear shorts and t-shirts to Mass that I doubt they would be able to effectively conceal a weapon.

  37. Ed the Roman says:


    I like you better now too.

    As to His Excellency’s motives, I’ll hazard a guess. He doesn’t like concealed carry. He prefers that Caesar prohibit it in churches, in part because Caesar can prohibit it in places that His Excellency cannot*, and also because it saves H.E. the resentment of those who would rather be able to carry, were H.E. to prohibit it himself.

    In Georgia, establishments may prohibit concealed (or open) carry, but it is of no legal force, i.e., unless you are discovered to be carrying you aren’t doing anything ‘bad’. If you are discovered, are asked to leave and refuse to, of course, that’s trespassing. In Florida, with few exceptions, establishments may NOT prohibit carry. I have not read the statute to parse whether churches may prohibit with legal effect or not. Nobody around here has said anything about it, and I will not bring the question up.

    * I think that is a BIG part of this.

  38. DavidR says:

    frjim, try #3 buckshot for the 870; it’s just about as effective as a slug, but much less likely to penetrate doors, walls, etc. into the adjoining space.

    Of course, depending on where you live, that may not be an issue.

  39. MichaelJ says:

    Bea, not enforcing a dress code is king of like killing two birds with one stone.
    If you allow shorts, taktops, miniskirts and strapless dresses, there is no place to conceal a weapon

  40. Salvatore_Giuseppe says:

    @Ed the Roman:

    My thoughts exactly. Even if the church decided to prohibit CC under the new rule (which they presumably would, since they are lobbying to outlaw it anyways), it would presumably carry no legal force, so they would be unable to do anything, should someone break the rules, unless they also broke some other law.

    Not to mention, as someone else pointed out, quite the opposite could happen, whereby, if it is not illegal to CC, the parish and/or diocese could become civilly (if not criminally) liable for any shooting which took place within its boundaries.

    By lobbying to keep a law in place against CC, the diocese is ensuring that a punishment will be enforcable, should someone untoward bring a gun on their property, and at the same time, is protecting themselves from any litigation that could happen in the event of any tragedy.

    My guess is, most pastors would not go around reporting on any cop-parishioners or KoC who bring their duty-weapons or ceremonial swords into the building.

  41. Fr AJ says:


    His Excellency told me, “We don’t wear those anymore.” He said the they were meant to keep one’s head warm in a cold church during winter before modern heating and there was no need for them anymore as well as a few other tidbits. The message was clear. However, a few weeks later, lo and behold, there was a picture of him in choir dress wearing a biretta in our diocesean newspaper! It was the first time I had ever seen him with one. All I wanted to do was go to him with the picture and tell him that I thought we didn’t wear those anymore! But, of course, I resisted the temptation.

  42. acardnal says:

    Fr. AJ, LOL. Well, ya gotta follow orders I guess. Perhaps once you become pastor you can exercise your temerity and wear that biretta and cassock, too. ;-)

    Sometimes I like to mention to priests when I observe liturgical or rubrical aberrations that “if it’s good enough for the Pope’s Mass, it should be good enough for you!”

  43. RosaMystica says:

    Bishop Taylor (Little Rock) has been arguing heavily for the “seamless garment” view of life issues. He views the need for tighter gun control regulations as one of the life issues making up the seamless garment. He says that we cannot call ourselves pro-life if we are only anti-abortion. I am not surprised that he is opposing this legislation in Arkansas.

    You can read his views on this as well as the other issues he considers part of the seamless garment on his Facebook page (Bishop Anthony Basil Taylor). He posts all his homilies there.

  44. Nan says:

    @Bea, I made a rosary for our former pv and sent it to him in his new rural parish, with a note saying I wanted to make sure he was armed and dangerous. I love Blessed Miguel Pro.

    My parish seems to both have Birettas and Berettas; it’s a Cathedral, where I’ve seen our auxiliary bishop sporting a Biretta, where we sometimes have uniformed cops show up for Mass. We have some priests around who wear cassocks in the confessional. People also receive Communion either standing or kneeling.

    We got a new pastor in the latest round of musical priests and altar rails were in play for the blessing of the throats last week. I wonder if we’ll receive ashes there as well?

  45. James Joseph says:

    Both Larry Dalliapouloss and I find the moustache unbecoming.

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