The N.C. legislature has passed a bill that would allow someone with a concealed carry permit to carry a handgun onto property that is both a church and a school, but only during non-school hours. The bill heads to the desk of Gov. Roy Cooper.
Current law makes carrying a weapon onto a school property a felony, even if the property is a house of worship during non-school hours. The legislation creates an exception to that law, allowing concealed carry during hours when the property is not operating as an educational facility. The measure, Senate Bill 43, is called “Protect Religious Places.”
Growing concern over violence against religious facilities has prompted similar legislation in other states, with lawmakers citing attacks such as the 2015 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. The Department of Homeland Security found in a 2016 study that about 4% of active shooter situations in the U.S. take place in houses of worship. The website concealedcarry.com, run by a network of firearms instructors, found 87 church shootings from 2005 to 2015.
“Many churches are understandably hesitant to allow the carrying of firearms in their services, especially when they do not know the level of training or experience with firearms by those who are carrying,” said Greg Wallace, a professor at Campbell Law School in Raleigh. “But with increasing violence in society, churches are more aware that they present soft targets for criminals and mass shooters. Many have seen the video of how lives were saved at the West Freeway Church of Christ in Texas in 2019, when a member of the congregation shot the armed intruder. A growing number of churches across the country have set up armed security teams to protect congregants as they worship.”
Opponents of the bill have suggested churches pay for armed security, but bill sponsors say that put small, less wealthy congregations at a disadvantage.
State senators passed Protect Religious Places by a vote of 30-19 on Wednesday, June 9. It passed the House on June 3. It will be presented to the governor on Thursday, but Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed a similar bill last year. The new version of the bill provides for an employee of a law enforcement agency, but who is not a sworn officer, to carry a weapon to work, with permission from the head of the agency.
“S.B. 43 received the three-fifths majority in both chambers needed to override a veto, but the override will succeed only if the Democrats who voted for the legislation don’t change their votes, as occurred when Governor Cooper vetoed a similar bill in 2020,” said Wallace.
Cooper will have 10 days to sign or veto the bill. After that it becomes law without his signature.