House of Peace or Piece? A State by State Analysis of Gun Laws and Houses of Worship (Mississippi Will Surprise You)


JCUA is working with our partners to ban guns in houses of worship. Many skeptics say that even if we successfully make this ban law in Illinois, the Supreme Court will strike it down. However, there is good reason to think that if we are successful, the court will not interfere. Beth Filipiak provides an analysis of similar legislation in other states, and what it means for us.  Some of the states may surprise you (check out Mississippi)…

by Beth Filipiak
Organizing and Community Development Intern, JCUA

State Ranking Gun LawsThe current Illinois Conceal and Carry Law passed in July 2013 allows concealed weapons, loaded or unloaded, to be brought into any place of worship beginning January 2014.  Houses of worship that wish to prevent guns from entering the premises, must post a sign at all entrances (there is one particular sign specified in the law, with specified dimensions, that signifies the independent property owner  has a preference of “No Guns”).

When the law was approved by the Illinois legislature, Governor Quinn attempted to veto some of the worst parts of it.  He said at the time:

“There are too many provisions in this bill that are inspired by the National Rifle Association, not the common good. Public safety should never be compromised or negotiated away.”

This is the sign required by law in Illinois for any establishment that bans guns within it.  Sign must be 4x6 inches with the only text being the reference to IL code.

The sign required in Illinois for any establishment that bans guns within it. Sign must be 4×6 inches with the only text being the reference to IL code.

Despite his efforts, the legislature overrode the Governor’s veto, and the law was approved without his recommended changes.  However, Governor Quinn is not alone in his thought process that houses of worship should be included in a list of prohibited places.  Multiple states have some type of restriction, and while they are often rather detailed, and continuously changing, here is a quick breakdown as it stands today.


States with Straight Prohibition, Even With Permit

Georgia and Mississippi have a strict prohibition on guns in houses of worship:

  • Georgia: The state’s ban on guns in houses of worship was challenged in court. The challengers claimed that the ban infringes on on their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion.  The US Supreme Court upheld the state gun ban as late as January 2013, saying that the prohibition of guns does not prevent an individual from worshiping as they see fit. The court determined that bringing a concealed weapon into a house of worship is not essential to religious worship, and therefore does not meet the criteria of the 1st amendment freedom of religion.
  • Mississippi: As of July 2013, houses of worship are still on the state’s list of prohibited places for concealed carry, even with a conceal and carry permit and with the new Open Carry laws enacted in the state.

States that Prohibit Guns, Unless the Individual House of Worship Permits It

In these cases, the assumption is that guns are banned in houses of worship. If a house of worship welcomes guns, it is its own responsibility to notify the public (and not as it is currently in Illinois, where the responsibility to put signs is on those who do not welcome guns):

  • Nebraska: Houses of worship are on the list of prohibited places for concealed carry, but individual houses may authorize security personnel to carry, IF they notify their congregations in writing (2009).
  • Ohio: Houses of worship that welcome guns must posts signs saying so (this law is currently in effect at least through January 2014).
  • South Carolina: Individuals must seek permission from the governing body of the particular house of worship, if they wish to enter with a gun.
  • Wyoming: Individuals must seek written consent from the governing body of the particular house of worship, if they wish to enter with a gun.

States that Prohibit Guns, Unless the Carrier Has Additional Training or Certificate, AND the Individual House of Worship Permits It

  • Louisiana: House of worship may choose to inform the congregation that they will allow firearms. In such cases, individuals who wish to carry a concealed weapon in the house of worship are required to undergo an additional 8 hours of training.
  • Michigan: Prior to 2012, all weapons were prohibited in houses of worship. However, currently, individuals who have a permit to carry a concealed weapon can bring their weapon into a house of worship, if they have the explicit consent of the house of worship permission.
  • Missouri: A general Conceal and Carry Permit and permission are required before you can bring your firearm into a house of worship.
  • North Dakota: Before an individual can carry a concealed weapon into a house of worship, ALL of the following are required: (1) explicit permission from the house of worship; (2) a Class 1 license; (3) local law enforcement must be notified of the name(s) of the individual(s) who are allowed to carry a concealed weapon in the house of worship.

States Where Houses of Worship May Specifically Choose to Ban Guns and Must Notify the Public

This is similar to the current legislation in Illinois:

  • Texas: “No Gun” signs which are posted by houses of worship are legally enforceable, regardless of permit status (whereas when the “No Guns” signs are posted elsewhere, it is not).
  • Utah: It is a criminal act to trespass with a firearm into a house of worship that has notified the public that guns are not allowed.
  • Virginia: Houses of worship may make the choice to ban firearms, but must notify the public.
  • Kansas:  A recent law in April 2013 created what has been called the nation’s most pro-Second Amendment law, which now places onus on the houses of worship to post signs.

How You Can Get Involved

All things considered, JCUA believes that people deserve to retain a safe space of healing and sanctuary, and that houses of worship should be that space.  Amidst all of the other chaos, we all deserve peace to worship.

Join JCUA and their partners in the campaign to add houses of worship to the list of prohibited places in our current gun legislation.  Learn more here or email Asaf Bar-Tura for more information at asaf@jcua.org

*** The sources of information for this article can be found here and here.

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