“‘Blessed be the lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle.’ That was from the Old Testament,” said Republican senator Charles “Bill” Carrico. “In the New Testament… ‘When a strong man fully armed guards his own palace, his goods are in peace.’ Those places of worship where I tithe, where I give offerings, are that palace. And it’s my obligation and our right to defend it.”
So far the bill has only passed the Senate, with the vote starkly divided down party lines. Twenty-one Republicans voted in favor of it, and 19 Democrats opposed it. It should be up to each house of worship, Republicans maintained, to decide whether or not to allow guns in their services. Democrats, on the other hand, were concerned about the danger of bringing guns into a religious service.
Virginia law at present prohibits people from bringing any type of weapon into a house of worship while services are being held unless that person has “good and sufficient reason.” That wording is somewhat vague and complicates the application of the current law.
Guns and the Bible
Something interesting about the arguments either for or against the bill is that people on both sides have turned to the Bible to support their positions. Arguing against the bill, Democratic senator Lionell Spruill, Sr., said, “Psalm 46 said, ‘God is our refuge and strength.’ Now we are saying with this bill, we no longer trust in God.” Taking this step, Sen. Spruill argued, would be akin to taking prayer out of schools because it would be taking God out of church: “Let’s depend on God on this one. Let’s not take God out of church.”
Democratic senator Chap Petersen agreed, saying, “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.”
Sen. Richard Black (R) disagreed that carrying guns demonstrates a lack of faith. He observed that he carried a weapon when fighting in Vietnam, and he didn’t believe that inherently stopped God from being with him. Sen. Black also pointed to different attacks that have occurred at places of worship throughout the country. One example he gave was the 2015 mass shooting at an African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina. Twelve black church members were having a Bible study when white gunman Dylan Roof opened fire and killed nine people. Roof has since been sentenced to death.
Another mass shooting occurred in 2012 at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Six Sikh worshippers died at the hands of a white supremacist who later killed himself.
The bill has cleared the first hurdle of Virginia’s Senate and now needs to pass in the House. If the voting continues along party lines, it likely will.
However, even if that does happen, it seems likely that Governor Ralph Northam, who is a Democrat, will veto it.