Anyone with a Texas concealed carry permit may bring a firearm into a house of worship unless expressly forbidden, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ruled last week.
The ruling comes in the wake of a mass murder at Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church that saw the deaths of 25 churchgoers one Sunday last month.
“If a church decides to exclude the concealed or open carrying of handguns on the premises of church property, it may provide the requisite notice, thereby making it an offense for a license holder to carry a handgun on those premises,” Attorney General Paxton wrote in his opinion.
“However, churches may instead decide not to provide notice and to allow the carrying of handguns on their premises. Unless a church provides effective oral or written notice prohibiting the carrying of handguns on its property, a license holder may carry a handgun onto the premises of church property as the law allows,” he continued.
Rulings from the attorney general have the force of law in Texas unless the state legislature passes contrary legislation.
Earlier this month Lt. Governor Dan Patrick asked Paxton to clarify the issue as congregations and church members work to mitigate another shooting. Patrick and other state leaders have been putting a spotlight on church security in the last several weeks, according to the Texas Tribune.
“I think that Texans have a history of taking care of themselves, a history of responsibility and freedom at the same time,” former Houston City Councilman Mike Sullivan told the New York Times. Sullivan said he was considering bringing a concealed firearm to church on Sundays following the attack in Sutherland Springs. “There is no wrong place to carry a gun any more.”
Texans who carry concealed handguns must already look out for signs posted outside businesses that ban firearms. Texas Penal Code 30.06 signs ban the possession of firearms. And Texas Penal Code 30.07 signs ban openly carried firearms. All signs must be posted conspicuously and printed with one-inch letters using the exact same language. Which results in signs that measure roughly four square feet.
While the signs are not difficult to print or obtain, Paxton’s ruling does shift the responsibility to churches who do not want guns on their property, Ed Scruggs, vice chairman of Texas Gun Sense, told USA Today.
“Some churches might not have wanted to do that because the laws says the signs have to be a certain size and that could detract from a church’s appearance,” Scruggs continued.
Paxton’s ruling goes into effect immediately.