Conceal and Carry: The Episcopal Bishop of Missouri Writes to the Missouri General Assembly
I write as a servant of Jesus of Nazareth, who comes in peace.
I also write as the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, for our churches, our clergy, and our laity. I express our profound dismay that the Missouri General Assembly continues to press for the expansion of the state’s conceal and carry gun laws. Despite arguments to the contrary, the evidence is unambiguous. Carrying a concealed weapon does not make either any person or the larger society one bit safer. A concealed weapon in the possession of a civilian is more likely to be used to harm the owner than an attacker. And the pall cast over public and private gatherings by the fear that someone might be “packing heat” diminishes the quality of life we share together.
Current proposals to allow concealed weapons on university campuses and in bars—venues where alcohol use might well impair judgement—are incalculably dangerous and infringe on the rights of the of the majority of university students, faculty, administrators—and the general public who patronize bars.
Furthermore, we do not accept the premise of “conceal and carry” as normative for public life, to be tempered only by those organizations and facilities which post signage to prohibit these weapons. For most houses of worship, long acknowledged as nonviolent sanctuaries, this default assumption is deeply offensive. Some faith communities may in fact welcome guns in their midst, but they are a distinct minority and, consequently, should bear the burden for posting signage to allow for concealed weapons.
Hospitals, similarly, are havens for healing and safety, and they too often, and tragically, are places to treat victims of violence. Allowing more weapons into this place of refuge compounds the danger of violence and retribution. Such a law would put patients, staff and visitors at substantial and unnecessary risk.
Implicit in proposals to expand conceal and carry is an assumption that a civilian with a weapon will deter crime and, when it does occur, will be able to mount a successful defense. First, there is no credible evidence that conceal and carry provides any deterrence. And, second, empirical research documents that trained police officers hit their intended target only 27% of the time when they fire a weapon in the course of a criminal encounter. That students and teachers in crowded classrooms, reveling patrons in bars, the faithful focused on worship, and health professionals caring for the sick and injured would improve on those results is at best naïve. At worst, such a policy would put innocent and unintended targets at risk.
Respectfully, therefore, I urge you to remove the expansion of conceal and carry from the General Assembly’s agenda. The arguments above come from empirical evidence. But I also write as a person of faith committed to nonviolent witness, a servant of Jesus who comes in peace. In any event, the Episcopalians in the Diocese of Missouri pledge our prayers and a strong desire to work with you in fostering safer lives for all our state’s citizens.
The Right Reverend George Wayne Smith
Episcopal Bishop of Missouri
Press conference scheduled for 11:15 AM, Wednesday, April 11 at Catholic Charities in St. Louis. Details here.