Gun safety and the reach of the Second Amendment is a controversial point of law in our modern culture. While the Supreme Court has issued recent rulings on the Second Amendment, states often continue to enact laws that contradict those rulings, prompting individuals or organizations to have to fight back in litigation.
One such example is occurring right now in New York.
Lawyers for His Tabernacle Family Church, a nondenominational church in Horseheads, N.Y., about 140 miles southeast of Buffalo, argued Monday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit that New York’s prohibition on firearms in houses of worship is unconstitutional. In December, the court issued a preliminary injunction blocking the state’s controversial law.
“The Constitution protects the free exercise of religion and the right to bear arms in self-defense. New York’s law violates both,” said Jordan Pratt, senior counsel for the First Liberty Institute, one of the legal organizations defending the church.
There are several issues with the case. First, the Supreme Court has already issued an opinion on churches and their Second Amendment rights, and it’s not unclear. In a recent case involving New York’s strict qualifications for concealed-carry licenses, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen (2022), Justice Clarence Thomas slammed New York officials’ efforts to suppress New Yorkers’ Second Amendment rights, particularly outside of their own homes.
“To confine the right to ‘bear’ arms to the home would nullify half of the Second Amendment’s operative protections. Moreover, confining the right to ‘bear’ arms to the home would make little sense, given that self-defense is ‘the central component of the [Second Amendment] right itself,’” Thomas wrote, quoting a previous Supreme Court decision, 2008’s District of Columbia v. Heller.
Second, days after the Bruen ruling, as though the state were governed by liberal lawmakers who make no attempt to abide by the law, New York enacted sweeping gun laws that created a ban on carrying firearms in many places, including houses of worship. That flies in the face of the Second Amendment, the Supreme Court’s ruling, and plain common sense.
Churches—like schools, businesses, and other organizations where people gather—are soft targets for crime, and increasingly so.
In fact, in his dissent in the Bruen case, then-Justice Stephen Breyer included houses of worship among places people go with guns. His argument was intended to persuade others that anywhere people go they can run into someone with a gun and an intent to do violence.
That may be true. If so, doesn’t it also make sense that firearms pose dangers to criminals as well? Based on Breyer’s logic, that’s exactly why people need guns for self-defense in all those places—because criminals have them, too.
Churches have increasingly been targets of ire, either because a criminal is anti-religious or simply looking for a place where he thinks no one will be armed or prepared for violence. That—and blatant racism—were the reasons a white supremacist fatally shot nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
That tragedy prompted people to begin to exercise their Second Amendment rights, albeit quietly, in church settings. At times, it has been proven to prevent loss of life. In 2019, a gunman opened fire at the West Freeway Church of Life in North Texas. An armed security guard targeted and killed the perpetrator. Although two churchgoers did die—along with the shooter—the loss of life, given a full building at church that morning, could have been much greater.
It’s clear the armed security guard, trained in the use of firearms, surely saved many lives.
A livestream video captured the shootings, along with an interesting, pro-Second Amendment anecdote: If you look closely, you can see other people drawing their weapons as well. Are they preparing to commit crimes? Of course not. They were ready to defend themselves, as is their right. Texas gun laws are more pro-citizen and considerably less restrictive than New York’s.
Churches in New York want the same rights as churches in Texas and other states: They want trained men and women to be allowed to defend themselves and others in places where violence can break out unexpectedly and without warning. Not all violent attacks can be prevented, but the best deterrent is people ready and willing to take action when necessary with firearms they are trained to use.
It’s unfortunate that New York lawmakers have disregarded the obvious stance of the Supreme Court on gun laws and continue to burden the state’s residents with anxiety and worry over whether they’ll be in a public place—for example, a church, a park or a school—and be unable to protect themselves and their loved ones with a firearm if they need to.
It will be interesting to see how the court rules on this case, and whether or not this one makes its way to the Supreme Court, too.
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