The Assembly bill that would allow concealed carry holders to be armed in a place of worship while on school property faces a critical step Tuesday as an Assembly Committee will vote on the subject for the first time in nearly two years.
AB 503’s new concealed carry parameters
Assembly Bill 503, authored by Assemblyman Heath Flora (R-Ripon), would slightly expand where concealed carry holders could be armed. Under the bill, certain ‘gun-free’ zones, namely in places of worship that are on private or public school property. Under AB 503, the license holder would need permission of the school.
California is one of the 48 states that currently allow concealed carry holders to be armed in a church or other place of worship. However, due to public and private California schools being ‘gun free’ areas, all school property is currently covered. Many churches and places of worship, such as rented buildings or Catholic churches that share the grounds with Catholic schools, are currently blocked due to the gun-free status of certain areas.
Support for AB 503
Assemblyman Flora has backed the bill as he strongly believes in the second amendment and for greater concealed carry usage for protection. Flora had previously tried to pass a similar bill, AB 2318, in 2018, but it ended up failing twice in the Public Safety Committee. AB 503 was due to meet the committee last year but was pulled to move it for a 2020 session vote partially due to changes in Committee members.
Other supporters of the bill include gun rights advocates and groups such as the NRA.
“There is no such thing as a gun free zone. A person intent on criminal violence will not be deterred because of a ‘no guns’ sign or an anti-gun law,” said the NRA in a statement. “The only consequence of such measures is to ensure law-abiding citizens are disarmed and vulnerable.”
“AB 503 would not change prohibited person laws, BUT would allow properly licensed individuals the opportunity to defend themselves and others when criminals take advantage of gun free zones.”
What it means for churches and other places of worship
Religious leaders are mixed on the bill but also do readily acknowledge a growing number of shootings taking place at houses of worship.
“Church and synagogue shootings are sadly becoming more and more of an occurrence,” said Reverend Ted Conner. “There was the nut in Charleston who shot people praying at church, and just over a year ago another nut shot up a [synagogue] in Pittsburgh. And there are many others that were less deadly, including out in California. Just last year a Synagogue in San Diego had a deadly shooting.”
“If there was someone who had a legally concealed pistol, it’s possible that an incident could be stopped, or at least stopped before more people are injured or killed.”
“The major concern is a gun being allowed on school property, especially if a church service and the school day coincides. A gunman comes through, you might get a little warning out. A guy with a concealed weapon comes through, there’s no warning.”
“Personally, in my congregation, I’ve let half a dozen or so come into church with a concealed weapon. If someone comes through and wants to shoot up the place, they’ll be outgunned. And you need to remember these are people with firearms training, not just someone who decided to get a permit and got one a few hours later.”
“I’d say I’d rather have someone with a weapon to protect my flock rather than no one. It’s not an easy call considering scripture, but if at least one life is saved because of it, it’s worth it.”
Opposition to the bill
Many school, parent, and medical organizations have come out against the bill, saying that it will only cause further violence and lead to more lives being lost.
“Loosening restrictions on concealed carry firearms in California’s school zones is contrary to the need for the legislature to increase protections for children, youth and the community from gun violence,” noted the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in a press release. “Commenting in 2017 on proposed federal legislation that would have made it easier to carry locked, loaded, and hidden firearms in public, AAP Past President Fernando Stein, MD states, “Research shows that easier access to firearms increases the risk that children and youth will be injured or killed by guns; making the concealed carry of firearms easier is a threat to children’s safety.”
Previous version of the bill had been denounced by organizations such as the Giffords Law Center.
The Assembly Public Safety Committee is set to hear the bill Tuesday in Sacramento, with a vote being possible. While it is expected not to be carried to an Assembly vote, a different makeup of the Public Safety Committee may bring more discussion to the bill.