La. Bishops Ban Guns From Catholic Churches Despite Law Allowing Them

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Concealed handguns won't be allowed in Roman Catholic churches, despite a new state law allowing them.

"We don't think it is appropriate to have guns in churches," Danny Loar, executive director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops -- the church's public policy arm in Louisiana, said Monday.

The law allows concealed handguns in churches, synagogues or mosques for those with a valid permit and training. It also says those with authority over a church have the final say in their church.

Bishops discussed the issue when reviewing bills, Loar said.

"The bishops decided that, if the bill became law, the bishops would let their pastors know that this would not be permissible in Catholic churches," Loar said.

The previous law let only law enforcement officials carry concealed weapons into churches.

Loar said he notified Louisiana's bishops by e-mail shortly after Gov. Bobby Jindal signed state Rep. Henry Burns' bill into law on July 6.

The bill triggered controversy and heavy criticism in newspaper editorials but cleared the House 65-26 and the Senate 22-9.

Burns, R-Haughton, said this year's law gives church leaders a new option if security concerns warrant it.

"I don't have a problem with them opting out of it," Burns said of Catholic bishops.

"It is a freedom of choice thing," he added.

Burns said the law has triggered interest among deputy sheriffs in Caddo and Bossier parishes. He said some shooting ranges have called to ask about the requirement for an eight-hour training course for those who want to carry a concealed handgun in a church.

"I just know in this area there has been a lot of interest in it," Burns said.

Whether and which churches in Louisiana plan to take advantage of the law is unclear.

Priests and ministers are supposed to notify the congregation in churches that allow concealed handguns.

Burns' proposal is said to have stemmed from a request from a small congregation in northern Louisiana.

Loar said he told Burns early in the legislative process that the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops would remain neutral on his bill as long as it was optional.

"That is why we stayed out of the picture," Loar said.

Burns' initial proposal was rejected, but state Sen. Joe McPherson, D-Woodworth, attached similar legislation onto a separate bill dealing with handgun permits in the final days of the nearly three-month session.

"A lot of churches have security already," McPherson said Monday.

"This just allows them to use their members that have concealed carry permits as part of their security," he said.

Burns said his bill has also prompted some needed conversations about the security of doors, locks and parking lots in and around churches.