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Church gun accord doubtful

Lawmaker balks at proposals to alter registration law

By Jennifer Dobner
Deseret Morning News

Published: Thursday, Jan. 15 2004 6:25 a.m. MST

A coalition of Utah religious leaders objects to a state law that says churches must register with the state if they intend to ban guns from their places of worship. But with just days to go before the start of the next legislative session, no legislator has committed to carrying a bill that could change the law.

Church leaders announced in December their plan just to ignore the law, saying the state doesn't have the right to impose the registration requirement on private property.

At the time, Sen. Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, who got the law passed in 2003, said he could work with religious leaders to address the issue, but in an e-mail Friday to a representative of the Episcopal Diocese, Waddoups said their proposed changes to the law were not something he could support.

The proposal, Waddoups said, asked that churches be carved out as secure places where guns are always banned, much like a courthouse, jail or airport.

"I am not inclined to amend the legislation to prohibit concealed weapons in churches. They are private property, and they need to take the initiative if they do not want the weapons there," Waddoups wrote to Toni Marie Sutliff, a member of the Episcopal Diocese's Standing Committee who helped organized the December press conference. "Any non-secure areas that are prohibiting weapons need to provide sort of protection for those they are prohibiting from protecting themselves."

In Waddoups' mind, that means providing at-the-door security guards, metal detectors or personal searches of those entering a place of worship.

"That's not plausible in my mind, and I don't think (churches) want to do that," he said. "But you've got to let (people) protect themselves, and so far, I haven't heard any other alternatives."

Sutliff provided three suggested amendments to the state's concealed-carry laws — all of which would have "changed the presumption that concealed weapons are allowed in places of worship to the presumption that weapons are not allowed," she said.

None of her suggestions addressed only the issue of registration.

Waddoups believes the state registration — which is posted on the Web at bci.utah.gov/CFP/CFChurchNotify.html — makes sense. The state requires houses of worship to notify concealed weapon carriers of gun policies and provides a way for that information to be accessed at any time. More than 50,000 Utahns have concealed weapons permits.

But a new poll conducted by Dan Jones and Associates indicates that most Utahns would side with Utah churches and against Utah law. Some 54 percent of those polled said churches should not have to register with the state. Only about 31 percent believe the registration is a good idea.

"The poll just proves what I've always known: that the people of Utah have good sense," said Dee Rowland, legislative liaison for Utah's Catholic Diocese. "I long for the day when legislators will listen to their constituents."

To date, only three churches have registered, even though the law went into effect last July, state Bureau of Criminal Identification director Nanette Rolfe said. There is no penalty for not registering; however, civil or legal action against a person who takes a concealed weapon into a church with a no-gun policy cannot be triggered if the church has not registered, Waddoups said.

None of the three registered churches is from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the LDS Church did not participate in the December press conference with other faiths. The church did not respond for a request for comment on the issue made by the Deseret Morning News.

Sutliff said Thursday that she and others will continue to talk to legislators in hopes of finding someone willing to take the issue back to Capitol Hill.

And churches will continue to practice "civil disobedience," said the Rev. David Henry, pastor of Wasatch Presbyterian Church.

"This is not just about the constitutional right, and it's not just about politics," Henry said. "It really has to do with us as churches expressing the creation of a different kind of community. Not one that is based on some mutual deterrent like in the Cold War policy, but rather based upon our relationship between one another as human beings and between us and our God.

"We don't think we should have to go to a Web site to register our free space, which is the historical definition or understanding of sanctuary."


E-mail: jdobner@desnews.com

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