Since 1997, it has been legal for concealed handgun licensees (“CHL”) to carry their self-defense handguns in church. The number of CHL’s doing so is unknown, but they likely number in 6 figures. Very few churches post Tex. Penal Code §30.06 signs that would make churches off-limits and with good reason. Statistics show that CHLs are fifteen times less likely to commit a crime than is the general public and this track record is even better than the excellent record established by Texas law enforcement officers. Why would any rational church official disarm the most law-abiding members of their congregation? This is especially true since churches are often targeted specifically because they are houses of worship.
A common attribute of churches is a group of volunteers wanting to help their church’s mission. Volunteers engage in a wide variety of activities from cooking for various food programs, offering daycare both on Sundays and often during the week, greeting members and guests on Sunday morning and serving in groups whose function include activities that constitute “security activities” under the Texas Occupations Code.
Current Texas Law – Security Guard License Required
A problem arises when any of these teams, regardless of their titles, engage in any activities that fall under this very broad definition of “security” as used in Chapter 1702 of the Texas Occupations Code. Anyone performing one or more of these functions must hold the appropriate level security officer’s license. There is an exception for volunteers serving charitable organizations including churches, but there is a catch – they cannot be armed. So CHLs are precluded from serving their churches in many capacities, if they want to be able to protect themselves, their families and their fellow church members.
In 2013, two bills were filed to address this problem. HB2535 by Rep. Shaefer died in the House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee when Chairman Pickett did not allow a vote on the Bill. SB1324 by Sen. Seliger also died in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee without the opportunity for a public hearing.
During the public hearing on HB2535 in the House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee, a representative from the security guard industry testified against the bill. It was not surprising that he would claim that safety would be compromised if CHL’s serving as church volunteers could carry their handguns. It was a false claim, but no one was surprised to hear the statement from someone whose job it was to protect the income of security companies. It was quite surprising however, to hear the industry representative falsely testify that HB2535 was not necessary because churches and CHL’s could “already do what they want to do.” Thankfully, someone on the Committee had to foresight to invite a high-ranking DPS official to attend the hearing to serve as a resource witness. When the security industry representative finished his testimony, the DPS official with authority over the entire division responsible for licensing and oversight of security guards and companies was called to testify. He unequivocally stated that current law did not allow a CHL to carry their handgun when they were serving as a church volunteer, if any of their duties involved an activity that constituted a “security” function under Texas law, unless they held a current security officer commission or license. This directly contradicted the sworn testimony given by the security industry lobbyist.
Church Volunteers v. Paid Security Guards
Although the security industry claims its opposition to allowing CHLs to remain armed when volunteering for their churches is based upon a safety concern, the real goal is to protect their revenue stream. The function of a paid security guard at a mall or other public location is markedly different from volunteers serving on a safety team at a church. Most safety groups at churches do not function like a security guard. A guard is expected to intervene in ongoing criminal activity, while church volunteers will call 911 if there is a problem, unless there is insufficient time. Church volunteers spend more time helping people find locations on the church campus, helping people with limited mobility, and herding kids back into their classes. They do not walk the property checking for unlocked doors, tackle shoplifters, or help to protect armored car employees delivering or picking up cash.
Current Law Diminishes Safety
Let us not attempt to over-sell the “safety” issue and find ourselves engaging in the same tactics used to oppose this much-needed legislation. Current law has a minimal impact on church safety, but the impact it does have is negative. Texas law allows all citizens to use deadly force to protect not only themselves but also third persons, regardless of the location. If there is an assault on church-goers, then it is highly likely that an armed CHL will intervene to protect innocent people, and their actions will be perfectly legal and justified.
So what is gained by current law that prohibits armed CHLs from participating in volunteer safety/security teams? Absolutely nothing! They still can and will intervene to protect innocent people and they will do so with whatever skills, training and education they possess. The more vulnerable the victims (children, the elderly, women), the greater the likelihood multiple people will intervene. Current Texas law diminishes public safety, albeit only marginally so, by denying churches the ability to coordinate security volunteers. It is time to recognize both the different missions of paid security guards and church volunteers and the excellent track record CHL’s have earned over the last eighteen years. There is no rational reason to disarm church volunteers who happen to be CHLs.
Bills similar to HB2535/SB1324 are expected to be filed in 2015 and they deserve widespread public support. This issue does not garner the media coverage that other high profile bills enjoy, but they will be important bills nonetheless.