Georgia has officially changed its laws to allow licensed gun owners to carry their guns in public spaces like bars, schools, some government buildings, and churches, a measure which will go into effect on the first day of July. Despite this, however, Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Atlanta and those in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Atlanta will not allow guns in their churches or other institutional buildings except those carried by law enforcement and members of the military. In close succession, the bishops of these overlapping diocese stated their decision regarding the law as it applies to their religious grounds and their opposition to the law itself. In accordance with Christian principle, then, the Episcopal church and the Roman Catholic church in Atlanta have opposed the effects of the new Georgia gun law and created something of a stir.
The Georgia gun law has been nicknamed the “guns everywhere law” by its opponents due to the fact that it allows guns in more public spaces than ever before. There are still restrictions on guns on college campuses and in churches, but the option was there for churches to allow gun owners to carry their weapons onto church property. Episcopal Church Bishop Richard Wright stated in a directive to his diocese that the law provides protections to churches by giving them the option to restrict guns on their property. He has taken the option to deny gun owners who are carrying their weapons access to church grounds in full adherence to the law.
So has the Roman Catholic Bishop Wilton Gregory. Gregory, who has also been in the news for his multi-million dollar mansion, released a column in the Georgia Bulletin, the diocesan newspaper, in which he made clear his intention to restrict gun presence on church property, including Catholic schools under his direction. He expressed a deep sadness that the law had been passed, noting that churches are sanctuaries and that allowing guns inside their walls would not make anyone safer. He also raised questions about the reasoning behind the law, asking whether or not more guns would actually make anyone safer, especially considering the fact that guns are now allowed in areas where alcohol is prevalent. His conclusion was that the law makes it likely that guns may allow violence to escalate, not dampen it.
The Roman Catholic church in Georgia has been opposed to the legislation from the beginning. The Georgia Catholic Conference was an opponent of the bill, along with other religious organizations. This opposition may be seen as an outcome of Christian doctrine, something the Episcopal bishop affirmed in his directive. According to him, the “normative understanding of the teachings of Jesus” are a primary reason why he has decided not to allow guns on church property. To that extent, then, the Episcopal church’s opposition to the effects of the new gun law in Georgia is understandable.
But not everyone agrees with that understanding of Christianity. On one Catholic website, an examination of the issue pointed to the connection between Catholic doctrines of self-defense and subsidiarity and support for less-restrictive gun laws. Subsidiarity is the concept that the smallest authority is the best one for making decisions on matters. In the context of the article, that principle is what should make acceptance of this law okay for Catholics to carry guns. As the smallest authority, their decision-making is what counts.
There are other religious spins on the idea of guns laws, however. One pro-gun blog cited a passage from the Bible as a direct order from Jesus to carry weapons. The passage was from Mark chapter 22, in which Jesus tells his followers to buy a sword. The blogger argued that this passage meant that Christians should have a weapon and use it in order to protect themselves. The blog post also said that communities where citizens are allowed to defend themselves (ostensibly by carrying guns) are safer communities, though no actual statistics or other forms of evidence were provided to support that claim. The writer of the post also noted that some might call him a “zealot” when it comes to gun rights.
The differences of opinion within religion about whether Christians should support less restrictive gun laws or not is an interesting one, but it has surprisingly little bearing on the actions of the two Atlanta diocese. In fact, both bishops are well within the letter of the law to restrict individuals from carrying guns on church property. The law provides for such decisions. Whether the gun “zealots” within Christianity are right in their interpretation or the more pacifist seeming opponents of less restrictive gun laws are, one thing is sure. In Georgia, both the Episcopal church and the Roman Catholic church oppose the effects of the gun law which would allow guns in churches and they have exercised their legally protected right to ban them from religious property.
By Lydia Webb