Gun rights group fights to bring guns to church
A federal judge upheld Georgia's law banning guns in churches by dismissing a lawsuit Monday that claims the ban violates constitutional rights to freedom of religion and bearing arms.
The lawsuit had been filed by a gun-rights organization, GeorgiaCarry.org and the Rev. Jonathan Wilkins, of the Baptist Tabernacle of Thomaston.
Plaintiffs had argued that they should be allowed to have firearms in places of worship "for the protection of their families and themselves" without fear of arrest on a misdemeanor charge. Wilkins said he wanted to have a gun for protection while working in the church office.
U.S. District Judge Ashley Royal wrote that Georgia's law does not violate those constitutional rights. The judge said that members of the church had not claimed their religious beliefs "require that any member carry a firearm into the Tabernacle, whether during worship services or otherwise."
The gun rights group said they plan to take their argument to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to get the decision overturned.
"We've got a law that says you can carry a gun almost everywhere else in the state except in church. So we've got a law that is actually targeting churches and saying here's something that you can do almost everywhere else in the state, but not in church and that's a First Amendment violation," said John Monroe, attorney for Georgiacarry.org.
One of the questions being raised is why would someone even want or need to bring a gun to a place of worship?
"Why would a church buy insurance or have a fire extinguisher? Because something bad might happen, churches aren't immune to violent crimes," said Monroe.
The pastor here at the First Albany Deliverance Cathedral agrees that times are dangerous but he is not too pleased with the thought of guns going through the front door of his sanctuary.
"We just cannot make room for people coming into the house of worship and desecrating that holy place with any type of weapon, whether it's with a gun a knife, mase or anything," said Apostle Felix Revills.
Revills also says he knows people may have ill will toward the church and has hired security on Sunday mornings to make sure his congregation is safe.
"That is our responsibility as a church in this community to make sure that whoever comes, that they feel safe and that they are safe and that they can come and worship in peace," said Revills.
Worshippers are free to leave their weapons in their cars, or with security or management at the door as they go inside to worship.
The lawsuit had been filed in response to a 2010 change in Georgia law which removed the prohibition of guns at public gatherings. The change replaced "public gatherings" with a more specific list of sites including places of worship, government buildings, polling places and nuclear power plants.
No decision has been made about appealing Royal's decision or dropping the issue, said John Monroe, who represents GeorgiaCarry.org.
Also Monday, state Rep. Bobby Franklin, R-Marietta, filed a bill that would remove places of worship from the list of places where guns are prohibited.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.