Guns OK in church, Texas attorney general says in wake of massacre

Victims of the Sutherland Springs shooting. (File)

AUSTIN, Texas Licensed handgun owners may legally carry their loaded guns into churches in the state that don’t have signs posted banning weapons, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in an opinion Thursday that also clarifies a new state law the Legislature passed this year exempting churches from state fees for creating volunteer security teams.

The opinion was issued in response to request from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick “so that churches may know what legal options they have to improve security” after the Nov. 5 shooting rampage at the Frist Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs that 26 people ranging in age from 18 months to 77 years dead.

"If a church decides to exclude the concealed or open carrying of handguns on the premises of church property, it may provide the requisite notice, thereby making it an offense for a license holder to carry a handgun on those premises," Paxton wrote in the opinion.

"However, churches may instead decide not to provide notice and to allow the carrying of handguns on their premises. Unless a church provides effective oral or written notice prohibiting the carrying of handguns on its property, a license holder may carry a handgun onto the premises of church property as the law allows."

On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued this statement:

“I want to thank Attorney General Ken Paxton for his timely response to my request for an opinion clarifying the rights of handgun license holders to carry their handguns in church. Following the shooting in Sutherland Springs in November, everyone in the state was very thankful for the brave Texan who stopped the attack through the exercise of his Second Amendment rights.

I believed our state laws provided more protections than many realized and I requested the opinion to make sure that Texans are clear about our laws, especially when it comes to church security.

The attorney general has affirmed the right of Texas handgun licensees to carry their guns in church unless the church has announced or posted signs prohibiting it, as the law allows.

I also asked the attorney general to clarify the impact of Senate Bill 2065, passed in the last legislative session, which waived the requirement that churches pay private security fees to the state. These fees were a burden, particularly on smaller churches, and the attorney general has affirmed that Senate Bill 2065, which became law on September 1st, will exempt volunteer security teams from this requirement.”