Concealed handgun law: what UM churches can do

Local churches displaying the proper signage will prohibit concealed handguns from their campuses.

The passage of Act 859 by the 2017 Arkansas Legislature made it legal for an individual to carry a concealed handgun into any church or place of worship effective September 1. That is, unless congregations take action through the appropriate administrative body to prohibit them and provide notice that complies with the law’s provisions.

The proposed legislation was covered extensively in the news media and received heavy support and criticism from individuals and groups on both sides of the issue. With local United Methodist churches and leaders seeking guidance regarding the new law, Bishop Mueller engaged conference leaders and Conference Chancellor Michelle Ator to fully review the issue and to craft a response to the complicated matter. The result of that work was released in mid-July and included resources for local churches to use as they addressed the new law in their communities.

In a July 11 email communication to pastors and local churches, Mueller acknowledged that United Methodists of Arkansas have differing opinions regarding the concealed carry law and the complexity of the matter. He expressed his hope, “that every United Methodist congregation in the Arkansas Annual Conference will adopt a policy Concealed handgun law: what UM churches can do banning concealed carry handguns.”

“Doing so will simply be a continuation of the current law that does not allow concealed handguns in churches,” Mueller wrote in the email. He added that handguns had already been banned in public government buildings, restaurants, sports venues and bars.

In consultation with Mueller, Ator prepared three resources to aid the leadership of local congregations navigate the issue.

The first resource, “New Arkansas Law Regarding Concealed Handguns on Church Property,” summarizes the recent changes in the law and provides local congregations with actions they should take prior to September 1 if they choose to prohibit concealed handguns on their property.

These steps include placing the appropriate signage with the proper wording (a picture prohibiting guns is not sufficient) at each entrance of the church and providing written or verbal notice to concealed carry licensees that they are prohibited from possessing a concealed handgun at the physical location where a church meets.

The resource offers suggested language for written policies prohibiting the carrying of handguns on church property and for other communication tools such as newsletters, websites and bulletins.

Two additional resources are available: a sample resolution which could be prepared and approved by the local congregations council or administrative board and a signage sample.

The full text of Mueller’s letter as well as the resources may be found by visiting http://arumc.org/concealed-guns-in-churches/. The Rev. Jim Polk, assistant to the bishop, is available to answer questions. He may be contacted at jim.polk@ arumc.org or by calling 501-324-8042.

BY MARTHA TAYLOR
Editor