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Guns don’t belong in places of worship

Illinois Sen. Dan Kotowski  D-Park Ridge is seen Illinois State Capitol Springfield May. Kotowski says he doesn't agree with

Illinois Sen. Dan Kotowski , D-Park Ridge, is seen at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield in May. Kotowski says he doesn't agree with a provision in the state's new concealed-carry law that allows guns in churches, temples or mosques. He filed an am

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Updated: July 16, 2013 6:20PM

Houses of worship don’t just accommodate religious gatherings. They also are places where deeply troubled people come to get help. If for no other reason than that, they should be off limits to guns.

Unfortunately, a state law rushed through in the closing days of the spring legislative session that allows the concealed carrying of guns also makes it legal to bring those firearms into places of worship. That’s an alarming prospect that needs to be rectified as quickly as possible.

State Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge) has introduced a legislative amendment that would bar concealed firearms from any building or parking area under the control of a church, synagogue, temple, mosque or other place of worship.

At a press conference on Monday, Philip L. Blackwell, senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, pointed out that religious workers deal daily with people who are desperate, upset, despairing or on the very of edge a breakdown when they come in for help. Allowing loaded concealed weapons into that environment puts the lives of the staff at risk. Why shouldn’t those workers get the same protection as, say, casino employees, who are safeguarded under the new law?

As the law now is written, places of worship that own their own buildings would have the right to post signs prohibiting concealed weapons. But those that don’t are at the mercy of the building owner’s whims. Even if there is a sign at the front, some people might enter a church through the side door. And even if a sign is posted at every door, few people are confident it will keep concealed weapons out. They worry it will be too easy for people to ignore the signs and then say they just didn’t see them.

Rev. Liz Munoz, an associate priest at St. James Cathedral, said concealed weapons undermine the very idea of a place of worship, especially in a neighborhood plagued by gunfire such as Little Village, where she lives.

“In these communities, we need a place where people know they can come in and be cared for and loved, and not worried about who is carrying a concealed weapon,” Munoz said.

If some congregations want to welcome guns, they could push for an “opt in” law that would allow guns to be brought into a place of worship only if a sign is posted saying guns are permitted.

But the law as it stands just doesn’t work. Kotowski said lawmakers simply weren’t thinking about places of worship when they drafted the law. They should start thinking about them now, and promptly add them to the places where guns are prohibited.

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