[Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta] After weeks of intensive effort by hundreds of faith leaders from throughout Georgia, a bill that would have vastly expanded the places guns could be legally carried was amended March 12 to allow churches to ban guns.
In a compromise to satisfy proponents of unrestricted gun carry, senators in a committee which sent House Bill 875 to the full Senate for a vote, included provisions allowing individual churches to “opt out” of the restrictions and admit gun carriers.
The vote followed testimony March 11 during a lengthy hearing before the Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee by some 45 proponents and opponents of HB875.
A letter from Episcopal Bishops Rob Wright of Atlanta and Scott Benhase of Georgia was read opposing the unrestricted gun carry bill. In the statement the bishops said the argument by the bill’s proponents that “good guys” with guns are the only defense against “bad guys” with guns is flawed.
“Our Christian faith has a more complex understanding of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’ Our biblical understanding of human sin informs us of this universal truth.
“People who had no criminal record and had a legal right to their weapons have perpetrated almost all of the recent tragic shootings in houses of worship and schools. They were ‘good guys’ until they weren’t.”
Before committee members voted 4-3 late March 12 to send the amended bill to the full Senate, the group Faith Voices Against Violence rallied at Central Presbyterian Church across the street from the state capitol.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church, one of several faith leaders who spoke, said opposition to a bill created a true interfaith coalition.
“You’ve got Baptists, and Presbyterians, and Episcopalians, and Catholics, and Jews, and we all agree. That’s a miracle,” Warnock said.
The coalition included more than 200 clergy from Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups from around Georgia. Earlier this month they placed a full-page ad in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in opposition to the measure.
This was the second attempt in two years to legislate vast expansion of the places where persons holding a concealed-gun carry permit may legally be armed. Last year’s bill died for lack of a vote in the Senate after intense opposition from college presidents to its provision decriminalizing carrying guns on campuses. This year proponents amended the bill to allow college leaders to decide whether guns may be brought on their campuses.
The Senate has until March 20 when this year’s legislative session ends to vote on the bill.
– Don Plummer is communications consultant to the Diocese of Atlanta and attends St. Teresa’s Episcopal Church in Acworth.