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Bishop's Special Edition

Diocesan Guidelines Related to
Firearms in Church

November 13th, 2018


To all the Good People of the Diocese of Olympia:

Sadly, and far too often now, we have witnessed gun violence perpetrated purposely in houses of worship. Mother Emanuel AME, Southerland Springs Baptist Church and Living Tree Synagogue are, of course, most in our minds, but there have been many others we don't hear about.

While it may seem to have become more prevalent, the truth is that houses of worship have always been targets. We have seen a rise lately and we are, because of that, certainly concerned and paying attention. From January 1, 1999 to January 1, 2018 there were 1559 innocent persons killed or injured on faith-based property as a result of active shooter and criminal violence. (REF: www.carlchinn.com)

For a while, the Office of Bishop has been asked to come up with some possible guidelines. I write today for just that purpose. I want to reiterate that these are simply guidelines. This is not a policy. This office is not encouraging a specific action, nor directing you to do anything. Instead, we are providing you with information.

Over a year ago I was asked by a reporter what our policy on guns in church were and I simply said, our policy is that we follow the law. I would say that "policy" remains as far as I am concerned. What you will find attached to this letter are the guidelines developed carefully over the intervening time, and overseen by our Diocesan Safety and Security Coordinator Ron Miller, our Chancellor Judy Andrews, our Governing Bodies, and many other researched findings. These guidelines come from the concerns above, and from a common question, which has come in various forms but most usually is something along the lines of "What shall we do about guns in the church?"

That question must be considered alongside the reality of the law currently in place. Here are a few facts:

  • Washington is a state where qualified persons who have undergone and passed checks by FBI fingerprint and FBI National Instant Background Check System, court and DSHS adjudicated mental health commitment records, domestic violence and active restraining orders and other disqualifiers are eligible for a license to carry a concealed pistol. There are only a few areas, such as schools, courthouses, locked psychiatric facilities, secure areas of airports, jails, prisons and places in which persons under 18 are prohibited, in which that license does not allow concealed carry.
  • Gun Ownership by legally eligible persons and the right to carry a gun by legally qualified persons are rights guaranteed by the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Washington.
  • Churches are not restricted zones by statute.
  • There are likely persons who carry concealed weapons in your church now; you just are probably not aware of it. Some may be law enforcement officers, some licensed to carry concealed and some who are not (and in violation of law).
  • Churches are private property which can impose their own rules regarding possession of concealed firearms.
  • A violation of any such restriction on church property does not constitute a violation of law; however, if a person refuses to leave when requested for violating that guideline, they could be prosecuted for trespassing.
These are just a few of the realities and facts regarding the law and the right to carry a concealed weapon.

These guidelines are just that - guidelines. They include measures which honor an individual's rights under the law but also require compliance to reasonable rules that help insure that dangerous behaviors are minimized. These guidelines are not coming as a directive of any kind. We are not endorsing any one course of action or another and these guidelines can be amended, used as is, or disregarded altogether.

What we would encourage is that you do not ignore this issue. Having discussions about this threat as well as how you, in your local situation, might handle it are important, no matter what the outcome. These guidelines are truly there to help you with such conversations.

As stated above, these guidelines have been reviewed by the Church Insurance Group, the Diocesan Chancellor, and presented to the Diocesan Council.

One way this discussion has been broached in some of our congregations is the discussion around declaring your church property a "gun free zone." Some have asked, "do these work?" Most experts who study these events including statisticians and law enforcement experts would say the short answer is "no."

The best summary we can provide, comes from using FBI statistics and definitions, focusing especially on "gun free zones" where civilians were disarmed either by state or federal law or policy, school policy, or by private policy.

Since Columbine, (April, 1999) 74% of mass shootings have occurred in "gun free zones" and 85% of the deaths (379 of 448 murders) occurred in "gun free zones." (Martin, Michael "Countering the Mass Shooter Threat" First Ed, 2017 ISBN 978-1-5323-3173-2)

Intuitively, we know that someone with nefarious intent isn't going to care if a target is such a zone and in fact may have an increased sense of power and control for success and less likely have counter action taken against them in a "gun free zone." For them, failure may be worse than death. Criminals and mentally ill persons have a variety of psychological factors and motives at play. It is only logical though, that regardless of the motive, if one is bent on murder or mayhem they are probably not too concerned about trespassing in a "gun free zone."

A good example is the Regal Cinema murders in Colorado where Eric Holmes attacked attendees during the movie of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises. In his diary, Holmes picked the one theatre showing the movie near his home which prohibited licensed concealed carry attendees. (National Review, A Look at the Facts on Gun-Free Zones, by John Lott Jr., October 20, 2015 8:00 AM)

Mr. Ron Miller, our unpaid Diocesan Safety and Security Coordinator, is available to discuss the guidelines and to assist with referrals to training programs and instructors. (He will not do the training himself due to the potential conflict issues and liability as an "agent" of Diocese in his current capacity as a Safety and Security Coordinator.)

I commend the guidelines to you for study and discussion. I reiterate you are not being instructed or directed to take any action. These are designed to help you, locally, form a plan that will fit your congregation. Across our diocese we have many different levels of response. As I stated earlier, these guidelines will evolve. We eagerly request your input, suggestions, and expertise as well.

I want to thank especially Ron Miller for his diligent commitment and care to this process and to this issue. He has been a huge blessing to this diocese, and to all in our leadership that worked to get these guidelines developed and published.

As Christians, we have a moral and theological responsibility to take measures to protect the broken, the vulnerable and those coming to us for healing and guidance. However we proceed with this responsibility, we must do so with prayerful discernment. These guidelines should be only a part of an overall safety plan to provide a safe haven in which to worship and practice our faith.

We provide two sample, on-line, guidelines.

GUIDELINES RELATED TO CARRYING OF CONCEALED FIREARMS BY MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC AND CONGREGATION ON A CHURCH'S PROPERTY

GUIDELINES RELATED TO CARRYING OF CONCEALED FIREARMS BY STAFF AND VOLUNTEERS ON A CHURCH'S PROPERTY

Blessings to each and everyone of you,

+The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel
VIII Bishop of Olympia

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Contact Info
The Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel Bishop of Olympia
1551 10th Ave E
Seattle, Washington 98102
206-325-4200
206-325-4631 FAX

LINK TO: Bishop Rickel's website




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