Two Maryland lawmakers have submitted a bill in the state legislature that would allow churchgoers to arm themselves in church, even without a concealed carry permit.
In a press conference earlier this week, the bill's cosponsors — Del. Kathy Szeliga (R) and state Sen. Wayne Norman (R) — explained that the bill would not require any church to participate in the program and would require parishioners to get permission from church officials to bring firearms to church without a permit. The bill was supported by Hartford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler, who said that he called Szeliga and Norman and asked them to sponsor the bill.
Gahler explained, "The police cannot be everywhere, and this proposed legislation grew out of the faith-based community reaching out to us," according to the Baltimore Sun.
Under current Maryland law, parishioners may bring firearms to church, but only if they have a concealed carry permit. The legislation proposed by Szeliga and Norman would allow parishioners to carry concealed during church services without that permit, as long as the church they attend wishes to permit it.
Gahler explained that churches that do not want their parishioners to be armed during services would still have the right to prevent that, under the bill: "This is again enabling legislation that would let the churches put their rules, regulations, policies and procedures training requirements, whatever they deem as a business owner can."
Gahler and Szeliga explained that the impetus for the legislation was a number of high profile church shootings in recent years, including the deadly 2017 shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in Texas, and the 2015 shooting at the Emannuel AME Church in South Carolina.
"I don’t want to wait until we have that happen in Maryland," Szeliga told WJZ-TV in Baltimore. "What are we going to say when we have a church in Harford County that experiences what happened in Texas and we didn’t take our opportunity to allow our congregations to be safe?"
The bill is one of over a dozen bills regarding gun rights that are currently being debated in the Maryland legislature in the wake of the Valentine's Day shooting in Parkland, Florida.