The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has tightened rules on carrying guns in church, barring the practice after long discouraging it, according to the Associated Press.
The new policy was rolled out the first week of August and first distributed to Mormon leaders in Texas, where a new law allows licensed handgun owners to carry their guns in places of worship. But it will be distributed to local leaders in other states as well, according to church spokesman Daniel Woodruff.
“Churches are dedicated for the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world,” the new policy states. “With the exception of current law enforcement officers, the carrying of lethal weapons on church property, concealed or otherwise, is prohibited.”
The new rules also come after a Mormon church was the site of a shooting in July 2018 in Fallon, Nev., where the shooter opened fire and killed one man and wounded another.
Matthew Bowman, the Howard W. Hunter Chair in Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California, told the AP the move reflects how the church has changed from its Western roots.
“It is illustrative of the church’s slow evolution away from being a largely Western rural church which it has been for a long, long time toward a more cosmopolitan, international organization,” he said.
A majority of the church’s members currently live outside the U.S., many in nations that do not have a culture of gun ownership like the U.S.
“In any organization, you have people who might desire to protect or take the law into their own hands, and I think the church in this policy is saying, ‘Please don’t. Church is a place of peace,’” Scott Gordon, president of the volunteer organization FairMormon, told the AP.