The Rev. Rick Stansberry said he is wary of a bill that would give church officials the legal right to use guns at church.
At the same time, the priest acknowledged that security at church services is a priority for many churches these days.
“I wouldn't want just to have the ushers packing heat, but also you don't want to put your congregation in danger,” Stansberry, pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church, said Tuesday.
He shared his views after learning about House Bill 2988, which would expand the right to use deadly force to houses of worship.
Authored by Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, the bill would expand the so-called Stand Your Ground bill and allow a church official to use deadly force if he felt in fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm in a place of worship.
Ritze, in discussing the bill, has said that threats or violence have occurred at houses of worship in the past several years, including the 2009 murder of the Rev. Carol Daniels at Christ Holy Sanctified Church in Anardarko; the bomb threat received by the Rev. Paul Blair, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond, after he spoke against an Oklahoma City policy regarding homosexuals; and the 2005 assault of the Rev. Billy Joe Daugherty, founding pastor of Victory Christian Center in Tulsa, as he led an altar call during a worship service.
Stansberry said he would prefer the use of professional security guards or off-duty police officers to provide security rather than parishioners and church leaders. He said his church, at 8005 Dorset Drive in Nichols Hills, has not needed security guards because Nichols Hills police are quick to respond if there is a need for them. However, Stansberry said he formerly served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, 1901 NW 18, and security guards were hired because there were a few incidents involving vagrants that harassed parishioners.
“I'm not opposed to church having security guards and off-duty police officers because they are trained. Armed parishioners, I'd be nervous about that,” he said.
Two other leaders at local houses of worships also shared their thoughts about the bill.
Saad Mohammad, director of Islamic information for the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, said he liked the bill's premise.
Mohammad said the Islamic Society currently hired professional security guards to patrol the parking area of the society's mosque at 3815 N St. Clair. He said several staff members keep watch inside the mosque.
Mohammad said if the bill becomes law, mosque leaders would have another avenue of protection.
“We would never invite trouble, but we will defend ourselves if someone comes into the mosque and does something to someone in the mosque,” he said. “It's good that lawmakers recognize that there is a need for this.”
The Rev. Michael Robertson, rector of Church of the Good Shepherd (traditional Episcopal), 1000 N Broadway in Edmond, like Stansberry, said he is cautious about the bill.
He said he does think that churches need to have a plan on how they will deal with violence.
“Because of all the craziness in the world today, I have thought if someone storms in the church and has a gun or tries to do harm, what's our plan? What are we going to do? Are we going to hit the pews or what?” he said.
“We should have a plan of protection or defense.”
Robertson said he is not averse to one of his church members carrying a gun inside the church as long as they have a legal permit to carry the weapon and let him know they have it.