Guns in church bill that Northam threatened to veto in 2018 making its way through Richmond

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RICHMOND, Va. — “It’s my worst nightmare.”

A place of peace turned upside down by a moment of violence. A person coming into the temple with a weapon is something Rabbi Michael Knopf of Temple Beth-el in Richmond worries about, especially after the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.   

“We locked down our own building because we were worried of the possibility of there being coordinated attacks on synagogues,” Rabbi Knopf said.  

Security is a major issue for places like Temple Beth-el. 

“Recurring conversations that we have, we’re always evaluating if we have the right security protocols, enough security,” Rabbi Knopf said. 

Right now, the way the law stands, the average person can’t walk into a place of worship with a weapon. They need permission from a faith leader to do it. If they don’t, they could face charges. 

The current law reads:

“If any person carry any gun, pistol, bowie knife, dagger or other dangerous weapon, without good and sufficient reason, to a place of worship while a meeting for religious purposes is being held at such place he shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.”

So, you have to give a faith leader “good and sufficient reason” to have a weapon with you before going to services. Some places of worship allow security to carry a gun or weapon, thus given permission. 

If a bill passes through the General Assembly, you could soon be able to bring a gun, or any weapon, into a place of worship. Last year when the bill was brought up, Gov. Ralph Northam threatened to veto it. 

SB1024, proposed by Sen. Dick Black (R-District ) would repeal the current prohibition. This would then put the responsibility on the congregation to create a policy on whether or not they want weapons in their house of worship, lawmakers and advocates say. 

Sen. Amanda Chase (R-District 11) is one of the bill’s co-patrons. She says congregations she’s talked to want people to have the option to carry a gun. Chase, and others during floor debates, explained that places of worship could put up signs explaining their policy should they ban weapons. 

“It’s like any other personal property issue, with the pastor being the owner of the property, if you will, or the congregates there together with the congregation, they determine their policy,” Sen. Chase said. 

Sen. Chase says this could help smaller congregations that don’t have the budget to fund security guards.

But, there are concerns brewing in the pews at Temple Beth-el. Rabbi Knopf thinks if the law could put his temple in harm’s way. 

“We would be in the position to have to confront the individual, which is an unsafe proposition in the first place,” Rabbi Knopf said. 

There are also a lot of children in his congregation, including his own. Rabbi Knopf says if someone, hypothetically, left a gun or weapon in a pew a young child could find it and put themselves at risk.

SB1024 passed the Senate and is in a House committee. 

Last year, the Governor threatened to veto similar legislation. In a brief statement, the Governor’s office said Northam still opposes the bill, but did not share his plans if it were to get to his desk. 

“The governor strongly opposes this bill, but will make that determination if and when it reaches his desk,” the Governor’s office said.  

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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