The state Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill on Wednesday that would allow guns to be carried at religious facilities with affiliated schools. The amendment allows anyone with a “concealed carry” permit to bring a handgun during non-school hours on the property. A similar bill passed both the House and Senate last year but was vetoed by Gov. Cooper. Before that, a similar bill was brought up in 2017 and stopped short of Senate approval after passing the House.
One of the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, said the legislation will exempt places of worship from the ban, even if they have schools onsite. Places of worship without schools on their property can set their own protocols regarding concealed carry under North Carolina state law.
Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg, opposed this bill at the meeting. She voiced concerns for armed individuals leaving behind their weapons, which could end up in the hands of schoolchildren.
Daniel refused to take up another suggestion made by Marcus to include an amendment prohibiting concealed carry guns in churches that also serve as polling places. Daniel said that there’s no law that currently prohibits concealed carry at polling places and doing so will change the current law.
Marcus later said in an email that the bill was “amended without notice during the committee hearing,” and that committee members were not given adequate time to fully analyze its impact.
She referenced a voter intimidation case in Charlotte in 2020 when a gunman showed up at a polling site. She wrote “to the extent this bill would enable similar situations to happen more frequently, either by design or due to careless drafting, I oppose it.”
Four church leaders spoke in support of the bill at the committee meeting. They cited church shootings in other states as reason to support the legislation. Ron Baity, a pastor at the Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem said he’s worried about slow law enforcement response, “If a gunman is in our church, and he’s pulling the trigger, and he’s reloading in 10 minutes — if we don’t take him out, if we’re not able to stop him, he can take out most of our congregations.”
Baity said his church is at a disadvantage to defend congregants when school is not in session.
Other religious leaders disagree. “All churches should be treated equally — no churches should have guns,” Jennifer Copeland, executive director of the NC Council of Churches said in an interview with Policy Watch. The group has long opposed gun violence. Copeland asked faith leaders from different religious groups to sign a letter opposing the bill to key lawmakers.
“The foundation of our faith is, we are people of peace,” Copeland said. “And that’s true for Christians, for sure, but it’s also true for most of the world’s major religions.”
Becky Ceartas, executive director of advocacy group North Carolinians Against Gun Violence told Policy Watch that she’s also concerned that allowing this exception will set a precedent for other schools, especially private ones, chipping away the laws that govern prohibition of firearms in schools under the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act.
Ceartas said the bill potentially puts schoolchildren in danger, noting that numerous studies have shown concealed carry increases gun violence.
The bill will next head to the Rules and Operations Committee of the Senate for review. A similar measure was approved and signed into law in Indiana in 2019 and another divided the Florida committee members along party lines this year.