WILLISTON, N.D. - Some pastors in the heart of North Dakota's oil patch say they should be able to decide whether they can carry guns in church.
A group from Williston plans to submit a petition — signed by several pastors — this week to city commissioners that would give churches the option of allowing concealed weapons.
The Rev. Will Page, associate professor of Cornerstone Baptist Church, tells The Forum newspaper (http://bit.ly/10B1PE8) he's worried that people with evil intentions may target churches because they know members of the congregation are not armed.
"The whole idea of a gun-free zone is inherently dangerous," said Page, who moved to Williston from Mobile, Ala., in August.
The Rev. Mark Britton of Faith United Methodist Church says the petition asks that the decision to allow guns be left up to church leadership, not the government.
"Sometimes pastors have to stand up for church rights," Britton said.
The state Legislature is considering allowing guns in churches and other places.
Republican state Sen. Stan Lyson, of Williston, a former Williams County sheriff, said he doesn't believe that allowing concealed weapons in church or other places improves safety.
"When you get into a situation where a gun is being used, people are scared. They're so afraid that you don't hardly remember what took place when the thing is over," Lyson said. "In doing that, are they going to be efficient with their gun at that point? Or are they going to spray the bullets and maybe hit innocent people?"
Applications for new concealed weapons permits and renewals are steadily increasing in the Williston area and around North Dakota. Williams County had 923 concealed weapons licenses and renewals in 2012, a 101 per cent increase over 2011, according to the Attorney General's Office. The entire state saw about a 124 per cent increase in licenses issued in 2012.
Officials believe the increase has more to do with discussions in Washington, D.C., about guns than concerns about safety in North Dakota.
"We don't see any crimes from people who have concealed weapon permits," Williams County Sheriff Scott Busching said. "I have nothing to fear from the law-abiding armed citizen."
Page said Cornerstone Baptist Church has not had any incidents that would prompt support for this petition, and the church leadership is not in favour of arming ushers.
"We're not advocating that anybody do this, just that the city council grant local congregations the option of making the decision for themselves," Page said.
Information from: The Forum, http://www.in-forum.com