The Virginia State Senate has approved a bill that would no longer make it a crime to bring your gun to church.
The bill passed 21-19 on a party-line vote with all Republicans supporting it and all Democrats opposing it. It seeks to repeal a law with centuries-old roots that makes it a misdemeanor to “carry any gun, pistol, bowie knife, dagger or other dangerous weapon without good and sufficient reason, to a place of worship” during religious services, The Washington Post reported.
Republican Senator Mark Obenshain said that the bill simples clarifies what is allowed, Newsweek reported.
“I’d like to meet the lawyer in this chamber who cannot craft a good and sufficient reason that anybody who may choose to carry a bowie knife or pistol into any place couldn’t avoid prosecution under this statute,” he said. “This bill is simply about making sure that our places of worship have the option to adopt the same policies that any of our businesses or any other place has the ability to adopt.”
Democratic Sen. Lionell Spruill Sr. quoted the Bible in opposing the bill.
“Psalm 46 said, ‘God is our refuge and strength,’ ” he said. “Now we are saying, with this bill, we no longer trust in God.”
Sen. Richard Black, a Republican, said past church shootings show the need for the legislation.
“It really sent shock waves through all churches,” he said of the massacres. “These folks are uniquely vulnerable because they’re lined up in a church pew; exiting the pew is very difficult. It makes them the ultimate target. … Either you cower in place or you fight back.”
A spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam said Northam opposes the measure.
Much of the debate centered on the question of whether it was irreligious to wear guns while at worship.
“We … foolishly took prayer out of schools … and now we want to take God out of church,” Spruill said. “If there’s anywhere you can trust God, it should be the church. Let’s depend on God on this one. Let’s not take God out of church.”
Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, a Democrat, agreed.
“When I walk into a house of worship, it humbles me. You need to act and be your best, and that means putting down your firearm,” he said.
Black. a Vietnam veteran, said holding onto a gun does not preclude anyone from grasping for God.
objected to the idea that guns and God don’t mix, recalling his time as a Marine in battle in Vietnam.
“Somehow it’s thought that having guns present in church is going to exclude God from those churches… I gotta tell you, I’ve been too many places where men who were armed to defend themselves and defend their nation went into battle often knowing that they were not going to survive and they were not going to come back out. And I have no doubt that God was not excluded from their presence,” he said.
“I don’t accept that God abandons those that are armed,” he said.
Republican Sen. John Cosgrove said each church should be able to decide if it wants to allow guns.
“Your church has values, my church has values,” said Cosgrove, according to WVEC. “Let’s not try to impose your values on the values of others when it comes to these places of worship.”
The bill goes to Virginia’s House, where it faces an uncertain future.
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