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Worship in the News

Cuccinelli says gun in worship service permissible

But he also says a place of worship, like any other owner of private property, can bar guns.

Cuccinelli issued the opinion Friday in response to a query from Del. Mark L. Cole, R-Spotsylvania. Cole had tried unsuccessfully this year to win passage of a bill that would have codified the right to carry a firearm in church.

Cole asked whether it is permissible for someone to carry a firearm into a place of worship for personal safety under a law that requires a “good and sufficient reason” to do so during a service.

The statute in question says that “if any person carry any gun, pistol, bowie knife, dagger or other dangerous weapon, without good and sufficient reason, to a place of worship while a meeting for religious purposes is being held at such place he shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.”

According to the attorney general’s office, the statute generally prohibits carrying a firearm into “a place of worship while a meeting for religious purposes is being held at such place.”

But the statute provided an exception to the prohibition when an individual has a “good and sufficient reason” for carrying the firearm.

Cuccinelli’s opinion essentially says that legally carrying a firearm into such a place for self-defense constitutes a “good and sufficient reason.”

But the attorney general also said that while the Constitution of Virginia protects the right to bear arms, it “recognizes the importance of property rights. Moreover, the Second Amendment acts as a restraint on government, not private parties.”

Therefore, he said, “churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious entities can, like any other owner of property, restrict or ban the carrying of weapons onto their private property.”

While attorney general opinions are advisory and not legally binding, gun-rights advocates welcomed the support from the state’s top law-enforcement officer.

“What it does is it clarifies an issue where there was no clarity before,’ said Phil Van Cleave of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.

“Even though it is the most minor misdemeanor, our members don’t want to be in violation of any law. They just wanted to be comfortable that they were not breaking the law.”


Published: April 12, 2011


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