February 5, 2016
In response to inquiries from many churches across the North Texas Conference, Bishop Michael McKee (Area Bishop), Pam Liston (Conference Chancellor), Rev. Dr. Larry George (Clergy Assistant to the Bishop), and Rev. Jodi Smith (Connectional Resources Center Director) offer the following, with the hope that it may be of help to local churches in making decisions regarding new gun legislation in Texas.
New Gun Legislation Affects All Churches
The 2015 Texas Legislature approved legislation impacts all churches. The new legislation, which became effective January 1, 2016, places added burdens on churches that wish to be weapon-free.
In the past, churches have often declared their facilities to be “gun-free zones” and posted a simple sign stating such. This fit very nicely with our Book of Resolutions statement (Par. 5011), which states that every United Methodist church will be “a weapon-free zone.”
Under the new Texas law, however, all churches, childcare facilities, and many other facilities situated on church property, are now permissible zones for both concealed carry and open carry – UNLESS the church takes proactive steps to prohibit guns. Our conference chancellor has confirmed notice must be given, i.e., signs must be posted, if handguns are to be prohibited. [See Texas Penal Code Ann. §§ 30.06, 30.07, 46.035(b)(6) and 46.035(i).] Please note that even if the church houses a school, it will still require the signs to be posted. The church is first and foremost a place of worship, and school is only in session during designated times.
As its first order of business, every church should put in place a policy regarding weapons on church property. This should be passed by the Trustees and affirmed by the Church Council. This policy can include a ban on concealed carry, a ban on open carry, a ban on both, or an affirmation that guns are permitted on the church’s property (placing the church at odds with General Conference resolution).
To implement a policy that prohibits concealed carry, open carry, or both, a congregation must provide “notice.” Legally, “notice” may be provided in one of three ways. The first is “oral notice” which verbally informs a person of the church’s policy and requests the person depart so long as the person possesses the weapon. The second is “written notice” by card. Texas Penal Code §§ 30.06 (concealed) and 30.07 (open) prescribe the language that must be written on a card to be handed out to persons in violation of the church policy. Neither of these options is recommended since they involve direct confrontation with violators.
The recommended third option is to post signs at all entrances to the church. The law is very explicit on how this must be done, with specific legal requirements for the wording and size of the signs. Different signs must be posted for concealed carry and for open carry. The overwhelming majority of handgun license holders are respectful of the wishes of private property owners and have been trained to look for signs. Should a situation arise, signage simplifies the job of law enforcement; and church members and staff are not put in a situation of confrontation.
Churches wishing to prohibit open and/or concealed weapons can obtain signage from most sign companies. Please be certain that the sign you select complies with the law, which requires that the sign be posted in Spanish and English, using at least one-inch block letters in contrasting colors. The signs must be conspicuously displayed and clearly visible at each entrance to the property.
Although the steps that must be taken to make a church a weapon-free zone are a bit arduous, it can be done. Utilizing the steps above will assure that you are in compliance with the new law. After reviewing these instructions, should you still have questions, please feel free to contact our Director of Connectional Resources, Rev. Jodi Smith, at 972-526-5000.