Thoughts on how places of worship should handle concealed carry permissions

Editor's note: The author's views in this column represent his personal advice for a church carry security team given current Ohio law and the realities of the legal process after a shooting and do not necessarily represent the position of Buckeye Firearms Association.

While the majority of states allow concealed carry in houses of worship, as of April 2024, Ohio is one of only eight states (plus the District of Columbia) that require permission from the church in order to carry a concealed handgun on church property.

Per Ohio Revised Code Section 2923.126, Duties of licensed individual:

(B), a valid license does not authorize the licensee to carry a concealed handgun into any of the following places: ...

(6) Any church, synagogue, mosque, or other place of worship, unless the church, synagogue, mosque, or other place of worship posts or permits otherwise.

For the purpose of this article, I will use the word “church” to refer to all.

I work with a number of church safety/security teams, and I’m still surprised at how many church leaders are not clear about what the law states. Even in churches that know the law, I’m told that they suspect a number of people are carrying concealed that have not asked for the church’s permission. The wording of the Ohio statute is only part of what represents “the law.” The law is also defined by how courts rule, how prosecutors interpret, how juries are instructed, and, in the case of churches, how insurers view the intent of the law.

Since April 8, 2004: Buckeye Firearms Association celebrates 20 years of concealed carry in Ohio

In my discussions with church leaders, including some who have had actual shooting incidents, the law is viewed very differently in the aftermath of an incident in which firearms were involved. In fact, I believe that’s the perspective any house of worship should take when deciding what’s the best way to allow concealed carry. Work backward from “as if an incident has occurred” and ask what procedures, paperwork, and training should be in place to address all the questions that will come up in the aftermath.

Let’s start with a simple but important one. Since churches in Ohio must give permission for individuals to carry a concealed handgun, the church should have a written policy for how such requests will be handled to ensure they’re handled responsibly and consistently. It is certainly in the church’s right to have a policy that states no permission will be granted to an individual who requests permission to carry a concealed handgun on church property. But if the church decides that it will grant permission, then the church should have a written policy that outlines a set of criteria the individual will be required to meet. Let me highlight some of those criteria.

In my opinion (and the opinion of wiser people I’ve consulted with), the individual should, as a minimum, meet the following requirements:

  • Be a member of the church.
  • Have a valid state concealed handgun license.
  • Be a member of the church’s safety/security team.
  • Pass a state or federal law enforcement handgun qualification test biannually.

When the individual has met these requirements, the church should issue the individual a letter granting the individual permission to carry for no longer than a 12-month period.

Does Ohio law require this letter? No, but as I stated earlier, there are things you do to prepare yourself for how the various parts of the legal system will react given the occurrence of a deadly-force incident.

If the church is going to allow individuals to carry concealed, it should have an organized safety/security team with a leader selected by church leaders, as well as a policy on concealed carry and the use of force that the team operates under. This policy should be reviewed with the church’s insurer to ensure they have no concerns. Such a team should regularly run scenarios at the church to simulate an active-shooter incident, a verbally abusive individual, or a suspicious person. In houses of worship, the team should always remain welcoming yet vigilant.

Keep in mind that active law enforcement officers and retired officers who have maintained their certifications are permitted to carry concealed in a house of worship without asking for the church’s permission. If these individuals are known, the church should encourage them to be members of the safety/security team. They may also be able to provide the team with other skills, such as de-escalation techniques and the use of nonlethal force, such as pepper spray.

If your church has a safety/security team, you should inform local law enforcement that the team exists and ask how to communicate with them if an incident occurs.

As a final thought, if you’re a church leader, please don’t take lightly giving members of your church permission to carry a concealed handgun. It’s not only a significant decision for the church but also for the individual. My prayer is that the individual’s firearms skills will never need to be used, but if they do, the individual and the church will be under intense scrutiny in the aftermath. Having your policies and procedures in order beforehand will prove to be very beneficial when dealing with law enforcement, the legal system, attorneys, and insurers afterward.

Bob Jewell is a firearms instructor in the Cincinnati area. He is a Rangemaster Advanced- and NRA-certified Instructor, a graduate of the Law of Self Defense Instructor Program, and an accomplished tactical shooter. He annually participates in firearms, legal, medical, and self-defense training from top national instructors.

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