Dylann Roof attended a prayer meeting at Charleston, S.C.’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. After about an hour, he pulled a gun and shot nine Christians dead.
South Carolina’s gun laws did nothing to stop this homicidal racist from going on a rampage inside a house of worship. South Carolina permits an individual to carry concealed in church only if given “express permission,” which Roof quite obviously had never been given, since Wednesday was, to my knowledge, the first time he’d ever even set foot in the building.
Many state laws, regrettably in my view, prohibit concealed carry in church. Such laws, well-intentioned as they may be, turn churches into gun-free zones and human shooting galleries.
The sad and unnecessary reality is that when Roof started firing, there was nobody in the building who could shoot back. What it usually takes to stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun. While there were any number of good men at Emanuel that night, not one of them was armed and in a position to defend himself, his family or his fellow worshippers. As a result, nine innocent worshippers of God are dead.
Let’s be clear. Roof is entirely and solely to blame for this incident. And in God’s eyes (Genesis 9:5-6), he should be executed for his crime. But the carnage could have been limited if concealed carry had been permitted inside this church.
Almost every mass shooting in the United States in the last 75 years has taken place in a gun-free zone, and Emanuel’s tragedy is no exception. Researcher John Lott writes,
“With the exception of just two cases, all the mass public shootings since at least 1950 have occurred where guns are banned. This tragic case is no different...
“While the South Carolina law allows concealed handguns on church property if the permit holder is given express permission by the church authorities, that seems particularly unlikely for the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The church has regularly opposed permitted concealed handguns and stand your ground laws, let alone the notion of carrying concealed handguns in church. They have also been part of a major push for gun control and a strongproponent of the push for Dianne Feinstein’s gun control bill in 2013.”
Talking heads are routinely scandalized by talk of guns in church. But the maxim applies in church, just like it does everywhere else: if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. Roof had been charged with felony possession of drugs in February of this year, and according to South Carolina law, was not allowed to possess a firearm, let alone carry one around. That law provided absolutely no protection for the nine Christians who are now dead. It’s not gun laws that stop gun crime, it’s other guns.
Carl Chinn’s research indicates that in the last 16 years there have been 971 “deadly force incidents” in churches (including homicides, abductions, domestic violence, etc), resulting in 335 deaths.
And the problem is getting worse by the year. In 1999 there were just 10 church-related deadly force incidents. The number climbed to 108 by 2009 and to 176 by last year.
A muscular Christianity is unafraid of guns in church. In fact, Jesus himself ordered his own followers to carry weapons for self defense. In Luke 22, he warned them that because they were identified with him, they would “be numbered with the transgressors.” Therefore, he said, there will be people who blame you for all manner of ills and you should arm yourself for your own protection. “Let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36).
At a time when Christians and Christianity are increasingly being blamed for virtually all of society’s problems, the security challenges facing the church and the followers of Christ are unlikely to diminish any time soon.
There was a time in America’s colonial past where it was against the law not to pack heat to church. Hostile native American tribes learned that if they wanted to attack colonists, the time to strike was 11 am on Sunday. Everybody in town would be in one place at one time, in church, and they’d be unarmed. So Virginia enacted a law requiring every man to bring a weapon with him into the house of God.
It’s time to make whatever public policy changes are necessary to allow concealed carry in churches. Husbands and fathers need to have the legal freedom carry a weapon in order, if necessary, to protect their wives, their children and their fellow followers of Christ.
What stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. It’s true in church just like everywhere else.