A Georgia law banning firearms in all churches and other places of worship will stay in place to the relief of at least two pastors in Gainesville.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal from GeorgiaCarry.org, which wanted the justices to overturn a lower court decision upholding Georgia’s law banning guns in churches and other places of worship. GeorgiaCarry Executive Director Jerry Henry said the group wanted the state to allow churches to decide for themselves whether to permit people to carry firearms into church.
“We’re disappointed, of course. But it’s not particularly surprising because they take so few cases,” said John Monroe, a lawyer for GeorgiaCarry.
The lawsuit brought by GeorgiaCarry and the Rev. Jonathan Wilkins of the Baptist Tabernacle of Thomaston argued that the ban applying specifically to places of worship burdens “religiously motivated conduct by regulating how or what a worshipper can do with a weapon while he is worshipping.”
The Rev. Bill Coates, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Gainesville, said that while he may be a little more idealistic than some other local pastors, he thinks the Supreme Court made the right decision.
“I’d like to see the church be as close (as possible) to what the Bible calls ‘the peaceable kingdom,’” Coates said.
“It feels better that this is a place that is different than the violent world we live in.”
Wilkins, who had said he wanted to have a gun for protection while working in the church office, could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Coates has personal rifles and handguns he keeps unloaded at home, he said. When he was younger, he bought them for hunting, but now he feels more secure having them for protection.
There are church shootings across the U.S. every year, Henry said.
The Rev. Terry Walton, senior pastor of Gainesville First United Methodist Church, said he has heard of situations where pastors have received death threats. Most church services are peaceful, but situations have happened, he said. Walton doesn’t see gun control as the solution; he said it has more to do with issues of mental illness.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in July upheld a lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit. The U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, refused to reconsider that ruling.
Despite the setback, Monroe said the fight isn’t over.
“We’ll keep working to try to get a legislative change,” he said.
Henry said the group will continue to fight in the Georgia General Assembly to get the law changed. Incoming House Republican Charles Gregory of Kennesaw has prefiled bills for the upcoming legislative session that would do away with many restrictions on carrying guns in Georgia, including in churches. Monroe said he expects to see other bills filed and is optimistic about the outcome. Legislative leaders have given no indication that such measures would be a priority.
Georgia lawmakers in 2010 lifted restrictions that had long banned gun owners from bringing their weapons into public gatherings.
But the overhaul left intact restrictions that prohibited bringing guns into government buildings, courthouses, jails and prisons, state mental health facilities, nuclear plants and houses of worship. It also restricted owners from bringing weapons into bars without permission from the owner.
Critics of the law argue that churches shouldn’t be included in the restrictions, which mostly involve public buildings.
“If you can’t be safe inside your own home, I don’t know how you can be safe outside of it,” Henry said.
Despite a possibility of gun violence, Walton said he is more likely to agree with the state’s law, which keeps the church as a sanctuary. Church members shouldn’t need to fear for their lives at church, he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.