Missouri Bishop Deon Johnson speaks out against bill to allow guns in churches

By Egan Millard
Posted May 5, 2021

[Episcopal News Service] The Rt. Rev. Deon Johnson, bishop of the Diocese of Missouri, joined other religious leaders in the St. Louis area in denouncing a bill in the state Legislature that would allow people to carry concealed guns into places of worship without asking permission.

Johnson was one of eight spiritual leaders representing Christian, Jewish and ethical humanist groups who spoke at a press conference organized by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis on April 28 to oppose Missouri House Bill 944.

“It’s a sad honor to be standing here with these religious leaders, opposing a bill that probably should not have seen the light of day,” Johnson said at the press conference, arguing that “guns have no place in places of worship.”

The bill is a Republican-sponsored effort to remove restrictions on carrying guns in public. Currently, Missouri law requires citizens to get the permission of the supervising clergy before bringing a gun into a house of worship. HB 944 would remove that requirement, allowing anyone with a concealed carry weapons permit to bring a gun into a church, synagogue or mosque without seeking permission. Religious institutions that do not want guns on their property would have to post signs saying they are not allowed on the premises.

“We should not have to do this,” said Roman Catholic Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski, who convened the press conference and said legislators should have consulted religious leaders before proposing the bill. “Please keep our places of worship free from these tools of violence and any signs of it.”

The bill, which would also allow guns on public transportation and would lower the age for concealed carry weapons permits from 19 to 18, passed the state House overwhelmingly and is now before the Senate.

Johnson and the other faith leaders said the bill makes dangerous and violent situations more likely and creates a culture of fear.

“[The] Second Amendment right does not override my right and the right of people of faith” to worship safely, Johnson said.

He and others cited mass shootings in recent years, like the 2018 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, synagogue massacre and the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut. Johnson said he has carried the names of Sandy Hook victims in his heart ever since.

“The list of those who lost their lives to guns in mass shootings, everyday shootings and suicide since 2012 … is long, and every day it gets longer,” he said. “Each day in this country, 316 people are shot. Every single day. And 106 of them die every day.”

Johnson is a member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, which has been advocating for gun control and reform since its inception in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. Other members of the network have also spoken out in opposition to other bills that would make it easier to carry guns in public. Indianapolis Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows and Northern Indiana Bishop Doug Sparks wrote to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb in April to urge him not to sign a bill that would have eliminated the requirement for gun carrying permits in Indiana. That bill did not make it out of the state Senate.

As for the Missouri bill, Johnson and the other faith leaders urged legislators to backtrack and reach out to the clergy who will be most affected by its proposed changes. The Diocese of Missouri says that if the bill passes, Johnson will take action to ensure guns are not allowed in the diocese’s churches.

“I urge our legislators not just to abandon this bill [but] to sit down with religious people, people of many different faiths, to hear our stories, to listen to us,” he said.

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.