PARISHIONER PROTECTION ACT: Maryland bill proposed to allow guns in churches

Some Maryland lawmakers are seeking to allow concealed handguns on church property.

The deadly 2015 mass shooting during bible study at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and another tragic church shooting in Texas last year have sparked a debate about whether or not people should be armed in places of worship. Maryland State Del. Kathy Szeliga introduced legislation on Tuesday that would allow it.

The Parishioner Protection Act would allow law-abiding members of a congregation to carry concealed handguns on church property if he or she has written permission from the governing body of a church, assuming they are legal owners of the firearm.

"Think about going into your own place of worship, your back is towards the door, your mind is on God and spiritual things," said Szeliga. "You are very vulnerable to an intruder that could come in from behind. So making sure people, especially in that worshipful place, are protected is important."

The legislation would allow the approved person to travel to and from church with their firearm if current laws for firearm transport are followed.

"A lot of the members of the church may be already trained," said Aaron Penman, a security member at Fellowship Chapel Church in Maryland. "They might be retired law enforcement. They might be former military where they are familiar with firearms. So that will be able to provide them the ability to enhance a security team to where it is just not one person at the front door. Now, you have three people that are making sure, doing tours through the facility to make sure that it is secure."

"Christians, at the core of our faith system, we are non-violent," said Rev. Ken Phelps Jr. of All Saints' Episcopal Church. "Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount talks about an eye for an eye is what you may have heard, but I tell you you love your enemies. You return good for evil. You pray for those who hate you. We cannot normalize any violence as part of who we are."

An amendment was included in the legislation so that it would be implemented as a pilot program in Harford County and not statewide.