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Eyes on churches as they decide whether to allow guns
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When Georgia’s new comprehensive gun laws go into effect July 1, many churches will opt out of allowing weapons into worship halls.

The Safe Carry Protection Act, sometimes called the “Guns Everywhere” law by opponents, goes into effect July 1. The language of the bill actually prohibits guns inside churches, unless the “governing body or authority of the place of worship permits the carrying of weapons or long guns by license holders.”

But it’s not even a concern for many Christian denominations, including in Catholic, Methodist and Episcopal churches. Leaders in all three organizations have pointed to no-weapons policies, and advised individual churches to follow the rules already in place.

In April, shortly after Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill into law, the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta’s Bishop Rob Wright released a public letter prohibiting guns in churches.

“My judgment and this policy are based on the normative understanding of the teachings of Jesus as the Episcopal Church has received them,” he wrote.

It’s the same for the Methodist and Catholic denominations.

“We have a denominational resolution in the United Methodist Church that declares all United Methodist churches weapon-free zones,” said Sybil Davidson, conference communicator for the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. “There is still plenty of conversation about it, but that is from the denominational level. That’s the bottom line, though there is plenty of conversation.”

And Archbishop Wilton Gregory of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta said guns are banned from all Catholic institutions in Georgia.

The penalty for license holders who violate this law is a $100 fine. Those carrying without a permit would face misdemeanor charges.

Baptist-affiliated churches are taking a more individualized approach in determining whether or not to allow guns into places of worship.

Kent Murphey, associate pastor at First Baptist Church of Gainesville, said church members have not made a formal decision on allowing concealed firearms.

“My personal opinion, as one of our ministers, is that our church already cares so much about the safety of our members and visitors,” he said.

“We now regularly employ uniformed, trained and armed officers at our major events. We also have trained, armed members in plainclothes present at other times.”

Tom Smiley, senior pastor at Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville, had previously told The Times he also already hires off-duty uniformed police officers for Wednesday and Sunday services.

The law, signed by Deal in April, also allows people with permits to carry guns in bars and other public buildings with some restrictions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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