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State Republicans Push to Allow Guns in Church

Rachel Baye

It’s legal in Maryland to carry a concealed weapon on private property, with or without a concealed-carry permit, as long as the property owner approves. Legislation under consideration in Annapolis would extend that concept to religious institutions.

At a press conference Tuesday, Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Republican who represents parts of Harford and Baltimore counties and the bill’s sponsor, described the legislation as a response to the nationwide increase in school and church shootings in recent years.

Under the bill, churches and other religious institutions would be allowed to appoint members to carry concealed guns on their property without a concealed-carry permit.

Deciding who gets to carry weapons would be up to the organization’s leaders.

“This is not a bill that lets every person sitting in the congregation have a firearm strapped to their hip,” Szeliga said. “This is going to allow the board, the pastor, whomever’s running the place of worship, to designate people that are qualified.”

She said she plans to amend the bill to make it a pilot program just in Harford County for now.

Harford County Sheriff Jeff Gahler, who pushed for the measure, said there has not been an increase in threats to churches locally, but there have been more threats to schools since last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“These people — and so many of them suffering from some mental health issue — target what they know to be soft targets, places where they won’t be confronted and they run the evaluated risk of having the most success, and the most success means the greatest loss to life that they can certainly inflict,” Gahler said.

In addition to Szeliga, the bill has 20 co-sponsors, all Republicans. Democratic leaders do not support it.

“Maryland has one of the strongest gun control laws in the country — and we are not going to take a step backward now,” House Speaker Michael Busch told The Baltimore Sun in a statement about the bill late last year.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
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