When it comes to gun violence, what’s so special about Harford County churches? What makes churches in Abingdon or Havre de Grace any more vulnerable to attack than schools or movie theaters or restaurants or concert venues or clubs or mosques or synagogues or college campuses or office buildings or factories or community centers?
In gun-nutty America, there’s really no sanctuary. Name a setting and you can probably find a story about a shooting that occurred there.
Is nothing sacred?
I’ll answer that with the name of a village in Connecticut: Sandy Hook.
Thursday marked five years since that elementary school horror. Twenty of the victims were first-graders.
And, of course, thousands of Americans have died from bullets since then, hundreds of them in mass killings. As of Friday, the Gun Violence Archive, a database of shootings from sea to shining sea, listed 331 mass shootings for 2017.
One of them was the massacre of 26 churchgoers in Texas last month.
So now, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler has announced support for legislation to allow handgun owners to bring their weapons to church as a defense against deranged guys like the shooter in Texas. Gahler supports a little skirt around current state law: The designated church defender would need a handgun license, but not a wear-and-carry permit from the Maryland State Police.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Gahler had a couple of pastors with him, as well as Kathy Szeliga, a Republican state delegate, and Wayne Norman, a Republican state senator.
As members of the General Assembly in 2013, Szeliga and Norman voted against Maryland’s Firearms Safety Act. One of the toughest gun laws in the nation, it banned the sale of assault-type weapons, imposed a 10-bullet limit on magazines and required fingerprints and a license to buy a handgun. (The Supreme Court last month refused to review the law, a defeat for the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups that had challenged it in federal courts.)
Now Szeliga and Norman are co-sponsors of what they’re calling the Parishioner Protection Act of 2018. They want to give pastors the power to anoint certain gun owners to guard the flock.
I guess the church shooting in Texas must have hit home. Good.
While I think the idea of arming worshippers is foolish, it’s good to see Republicans reacting in some way to a mass shooting. Being generally complicitous with the NRA, they usually have little to say about the nation’s gun madness. They might offer “thoughts and prayers for the innocent victims.” And they might admonish journalists and political rivals that “this is not the time to debate gun control.”
But they don’t talk much about preventing gun violence.
Szeliga, Norman and Gahler are speaking up for public safety — give them credit for that — but their idea is completely misguided. They are advocating more guns as an answer to the insanity, essentially echoing the NRA’s post-Sandy Hook assertion that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
The Szeliga-Norman bill will likely go nowhere — because it conflicts with the thinking of the Democratic leadership in Annapolis, and because it conflicts with common sense and published research.
Last month, the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research released a fact sheet based on studies of states with liberal guns laws that allow people to carry concealed firearms. I know what instinct says: That the more people carry guns, the safer we’ll all be, in church and elsewhere. But that’s not what the data support.
The Hopkins team found the following:
• A study of 111 mass killings, in which six or more people had been killed per incident, found no case of an armed civilian stopping a shooting in progress. (In the Texas massacre, which occurred as the Hopkins paper was about to be released, a neighbor grabbed his rifle and wounded the gunman as he exited the church.)
• An FBI analysis of active-shooter situations between 2000 and 2013 found that unarmed civilians were more than 20 times as likely to end an active shooting than were armed civilians.
• An ongoing national survey finds that holders of concealed-carry permits have killed 1,119 people in non-self-defense incidents since 2007. These include 31 mass shootings and the killings of 21 police officers.
The Hopkins survey found little evidence to support claims of widespread success of gun owners defending themselves with their firearms.
And for those who believe churches are particularly vulnerable, the Hopkins team found no evidence to support assertions that mass shooters target so-called “gun-free” zones, where no one is allowed to carry concealed guns.
One more relevant item: In recent national surveys, more than 80 percent of gun owners and 80 percent of Republicans said they want higher safety standards for people who carry concealed firearms. And more than 60 percent of Americans opposed carrying guns in places of worship.