ROSE CITY, Texas — Under Senate Bill 535, licensed holders are now allowed to carry handguns in churches and established places of worship. Senator Donna Campbell of New Braunfels filed the bill, that went into effect on September first.
Campbell said the previously existing statute was "confusing and clunky." The new bill clarifies "the Legislature's intent to treat churches in the same manner as other privately owned establishments in Texas." Churches can still prohibit guns with signage if they choose to do so.
In a statement, Sen. Campbell said:
"The existing statute is confusing and clunky when it comes to clearly stating the rights of licensed Texans to carry on the premises of a church. This bill provides clarity of the Legislature's intent to treat churches in the same manner as other privately owned establishments in Texas.
Senate Bill 535 does not restrict the rights of churches to post 30.06 or 30.07 signs or prohibit weapons on their premises if they choose, which has been established law for most privately owned property in Texas.
In addition, Senate Bill 535 reduces penalties for licensed citizens who unknowingly carry in prohibited areas, aligning these penalties with other sections of state law. It also increases the penalty for armed individuals who are told to leave certain premises where weapons are prohibited and fail to depart."
Pastor Tony Wilcoxson said Rose City Baptist church has always allowed members to carry. He said they support the second amendment, and the right to bear arms.
"Those that are properly licensed, I'm not going to prohibit them from coming because they may be our saving grace," Wilcoxson said.
Wilcoxson grew up in the Fort Worth Area. He remembers a shooting at Wedgwood Baptist Church almost 20 years ago that left seven dead, and seven more injured.
"I remember that situation happening, nobody was there to help, so I always carried that thought when I came down here," Wilcoxson said.
It happened on September 15th, 1999. Recently, our sister station spoke with associate pastor of administration, Jeff Laster, who survived the shooting.
"I was the first one shot, and I greeted him at the door," Laster recalled.
He said there was no real way to know the shooter was going to do what he did. Like in Rose City, Laster said Wedgwood already allowed church members to carry. He said he understands why some would feel safer not having people who carry at church, but he also doesn't want to ban legal, law-abiding citizens when he can't ban the bad guys.
"If they come in and they're armed and they're killing people, and you've got nobody with a gun, you're at their mercy," Laster said.
Because of what happened in Fort Wroth, Wilcoxson made it clear early on to the church that they're not a gun free zone. He said they support the military and law enforcement to protect them, but in the end they have to be prepared to protect themselves against people who want to do harm.
During the week, Rose City Baptist Church gets support from the city marshal, but on weekends, they rely on the Orange County Sheriff's office, Wilcoxson said. Because they're on the other side of Vidor, he said it would take a while for help to arrive if anything were to happen at the church.
"It's always best to be prepared for those situations and pray that they never happen, than never prepare for them and then when they do you know lives are at stake," Wilcoxson said.
He went on to explain that he's glad Legislation is moving in a direction that keeps law abiding citizen's hands from being tied. While he's glad the people in his church has the right to protect themselves, he said it would be a last resort type of situation.
"My obligation as pastor of this church is to my people first, and to protect them as best we can," Wilcoxson said.
The church has been lucky to never be in a situation where they have to use firearms to protect themselves.He said they have received threats in the past, but law enforcement was able to come in and dissolve the situation when need be.
"It's always best to be prepared for those situations and pray that they never happen, than never prepare for them," Wilcoxson said.