Since January 1, of this year, Texas law has allowed licensed gun owners to display their handguns openly in public. My interest here is not in the law’s intention, nor under what circumstances one does or does not have the right to be armed. I visited a small church recently that brought the dilemma posed by the particular language of the law into focus. On the front porch, right next to a very inviting door, is a less than inviting official sign announcing the church’s desire to prohibit open carry.
In preparing for the new open carry law, some media outlets erroneously suggested that churches were exempt. In fact, the law does allow for churches to prohibit open or concealed weapons on their premises. They must follow, however, the same prescribed requirements that a business or property owner may use.
The law says a property owner may give verbal notice. How that applies to a church is not clear. Conceivably a church could have ushers at the door to expressly say that guns are prohibited as they greet each and every person attending services. It may be possible that an announcement from the pulpit would suffice, though it would mean people in attendance already carrying would have to remove their firearms.
It is more reasonable to assume that a church would use the other option, a written or posted notice. A blog post last year on the Texas Baptist websiteoffers a pretty good overview of the prescribed ways to post a church’s intention to prohibit guns. One way is to hand out materials, conceivably a bulletin or postcard with the church’s intent clearly stated. The other is to prominently post a very specific sign, with specified letter size, and very specific language.
That language, posted in large legalese on the front porch officiously competes with these welcome church doors. Along with signs and symbols of faith, many churches have been forced to post a symbol of our cultural confliction over firearms. And for a small church like this one, the large sign is glaringly out of place with the peaceful image of a sanctuary.