UPDATE: The legislation was just signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb at the NRA convention on Friday.
INDIANAPOLIS – Lately, we've seen it happen far too often – worshipers killed in deadly shootings – at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, a mosque in New Zealand, and churches in Texas and South Carolina.
For some, it's turned into a debate over how to protect our churches.
Should anyone be allowed to bring a gun to church to protect themselves?
What if that church also has a school or day care on property?
It's a debate that just played out at the Statehouse, which could now leave many churches with a big decision of their own. And this week, as the NRA comes here to Indianapolis, we're sitting down with people on both sides of the debate.
"There's no evidence to suggest that civilians carrying guns inside churches is a sound public safety practice," said Rachel Guglielmo with Moms Demand Action.
"I know several people who have gone to worship who had no idea they were committing a felony," said church operations director Ron Davault, who has pushed for the change in state law. "To me it's concerning because it makes any house of worship that happens to have a school an incredibly soft target, it leaves you pretty vulnerable."
At the moment, it is a felony in Indiana to carry a gun to church if that church also has a school or day care on property. But at the Statehouse, there's been an ongoing effort to change that.
"The churches talking to me about it are anxious. They would have liked to have had it last year," said State Sen. Jack Sandlin, R-Indianapolis, who authored the initial legislation. "I recently had a meeting with a number of pastors. When I brought this subject up there were some pastors that looked at me and were startled and said 'that's against the law?' and I said yes it is currently. They didn't know that and they know they have members that were armed coming to church."
Sandlin's legislation was wrapped into another bill that just passed the House and Senate in the final days of this year's session. The legislation was just signed into law by Gov. Holcomb at the NRA convention on Friday.
Specifically, the bill:
Permits a person who may legally possess a firearm to possess a firearm on school property if the person possesses the firearm: (1) as an employee or volunteer of a house of worship located on the school property; or (2) while attending a worship service or religious ceremony conducted at a house of worship.
Some lawmakers felt the bill would put churches in an uncomfortable position to now have to decide whether or not to permit guns in their church.
"My view is unless and until your church goes through that conversation they have to permit anyone," said State Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis. "I suggest you leave the churches alone and vote no on this bill. I think it's an infringement on the children's rights, security and safety. I think we've made a bad choice and dumped this on churches who ought not have to fight this."
"It's just another step in the direction of protecting someone's right to defend themselves," said State Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour. "It really is that simple."
The bill also eliminates state fees for a new 5-year license to carry a handgun.
On Friday, the NRA's executive director Chris Cox issued a statement saying: “On behalf of our more than 5 million members, I want to thank Gov. Holcomb for standing up for the rights of honest, hard-working gun owners."