Guns and the debate on access to them are everywhere in the news, and Latter-day Saints of all stripes fall on various sides of the issue, particularly in the United States, where a right to keep and bear arms is codified in the country’s Constitution. However, regardless of how one feels about whether or not everyday citizens should be able to own firearms, let alone keep them on one’s person with a concealed carry permit, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has quietly updated the guidelines of Handbook 2 to expressly forbid firearms in its meetinghouses.
The language change is seemingly minor – down to a few words, really – as the Church has moved from deeming firearms “inappropriate” in its buildings to labeling them “prohibited.” It’s a subtle shift, but is more explicit in both banning firearms and in outlining who is eligible to carry them.
Here’s the previous text of Handbook 2, Section 21.2.4:
Churches are dedicated for the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world. The carrying of lethal weapons, concealed or otherwise, within their walls is inappropriate except as required by officers of the law.
And here’s the update:
Churches are dedicated for the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world. With the exception of current law enforcement officers, the carrying of lethal weapons on Church property, concealed or otherwise, is prohibited.
Calling something “inappropriate” might have been enough for many to assume firearms were verboten at church, but the Church obviously felt compelled to remove any ambiguity and firmly prohibit the weapons.
Notice that aside from no longer treating the firearm policy as mere guidance and instead, as a firm rule, the language around law enforcement officers has also become slightly more specific. The previous version of the text said individuals could carry “as required by officers of the law,” which could naturally lead to plenty of wiggle room for those who sought a broad interpretation of “as required” and who is defined as an “officer of the law.” Now, it says outright that unless you are a current law enforcement officer, you are ineligible to have a weapon on the premises. Retired? Sorry. Leave it at home.
Here it’s also important to note that that handbook says “lethal weapons,” which could include a number of items beyond firearms and also doesn’t list firearms specifically. But as firearms are, indeed, lethal, it’s safe to assume they are included. One commenter jovially said, “What about a Marine? His entire body is a lethal weapon. Can he not go to church?!” Granted, while the language updates are more specific about a few things, they don’t go out of their way to outline what “lethal” means, so it’s all but certain some will find wiggle room in their own personal interpretation.
Gun violence has reached Latter-day Saint facilities as recently as this past July, when a man entered a Nevada meetinghouse and murdered someone in the middle of sacrament meeting. In the wake of the shooting, the Church reiterated its stance on guns in its buildings, citing the previous version of the Handbook text.
Time will tell if Latter-day Saints take this small, but direct, shift in language to heart and embrace it with the same zeal as they do other more black and white regulations. Coupled with recently firmed up lines in the sand regarding the Word of Wisdom, it seems the Brethren are trying to give us a few more specifics as we navigate our own discipleship and Latter-day Saint cultural living.