NEW ORLEANS —
As Rev. Bill Terry walks in front of the memorial for murder victims outside his church, St. Anna’s Episcopal Church on Esplanade Avenue, he says he knows more guns are not the answer.
“We started this in 2007 and it ended in 2012 because we ran out of room,” said Terry, as he pointed at the wall on Monday night.
To Terry’s dismay -- a series of gun bills passed the house Friday. One -- House 334 -- would allow those who have a concealed carry permit to carry a concealed handgun into a church.
“There is too much murder and violence and particularly gun violence that goes on right now without exacerbating that by arming our citizenry and encouraging that,” said Terry.
Rep. Bryan Fontenot, a republican out of Thibodaux, sponsored the bill and says the leader of the church may still stop someone from carrying and says he wants to be clear on that.
“I see letters to the editor or even some reports at several newspapers around the state that (claim) this would take away the right of the pastor to refuse someone from having a firearm in church and that’s incorrect,” said Fontenot.
Right now, you can’t conceal carry in a church unless the house of worship allows you to. Representative Mandie Landry, a Democrat from New Orleans, voted against the measure and says it would make things more difficult for churches that are already dealing with strict COVID-19 reopening guidelines.
“What this law would do is flip the burden and say anyone who wants to can and it’s up to each church to opt out,” said Landry. “So each church would have to put up signs, maybe a security guard, maybe get medal decorators. It puts the burden on them to keep weapons out and I think that is really unfair to put that on churches right now.”
Fontenot says firearm free zones have not been successful and cited the number of church shootings, including the December 2019 church shooting in Texas, as a reason for the bill. He also says the current law is not the best option for keeping people safe. But critics -- like WWLTV political analyst Clancy DuBos -- disagree.
“I think it’s a shame because people go to church or to a temple or synagogue to pray and now they have to look to see if there is a no gun sign,” said DuBos.
Terry says he hasn’t had any problems with the old law and questions the need for the change.
“We already have laws on the books,” said Terry. “Why are we changing that? I just don’t think that’s where the church needs to be.”
The Episcopal Church isn’t the only one concerned with HB 334. The Archdiocese of New Orleans is, too.
“Our first priority is the safety and well-being of our people,” said Sarah McDonald in an email. “This is an issue we are concerned about and are monitoring very closely.”
Two other bills also passed the house Friday. House Bill 140 would limit local governments from making their own gun rules to prevent someone from carrying and set gun laws across all 64 parishes. A third bill -- House Bill 781 -- stops local governments from banning the sales of guns and ammo during a declared emergency.
The measures now move on to the senate.