MORRIS – The way the state’s concealed-carry act is worded, it’s difficult for some area places of worship to decide if their church should be a prohibited area to carry a gun as defined by the law.
On Jan. 5, Illinois State Police began accepting permit applications after Illinois became the last state in the country to allow carrying concealed firearms.
Morris Police Chief Brent Dite said the Morris Ministerial Association reached out to him to see if he could do a question and answer session with them because of conflicting information about the law.
“In November we had Chief Dite come in and talk to us,” said Rev. Steve Cook, president of the Morris Ministerial Association. “We wanted to know what to expect as we navigate the law.”
Dite said confusion has come because some of the local churches also house preschools, which are a prohibited location, but preschool is not in session on Sundays.
“The law specifies that if it is a preschool or school, it’s a prohibited location,” Dite said. “It’s a gray area for some churches who also house preschools.
“Is the preschool in control of the church? Or is the church in control of the preschool?”
Dite said it is an issue local churches will have to look at, discuss and decide on.
Rev. Scott McClellan at First United Methodist Church said his church has become a no-carry zone because of the preschool that operates Monday through Friday in the building.
“The council voted to be a no-carry zone, 24-7,” McClellan said.
He said while it was prohibited because of the preschool, the council decided to be on the safe side and become a no-carry zone at all times.
Cook said the first step was to be informed. After the informational meeting with Dite, the individual pastors went back to their boards and congregations to make the decision as individual churches.
“The Ministerial Association will not make recommendations,” Cook said.
Cook said his own church, Living Water Church of the Nazarene, will discuss it at its next board meeting. Living Water does not have a preschool program.
“I don’t think it’s anything we need to do immediately,” Cook said.
He said questions arose about the churches that offer Sunday school, whether that was considered a school under the law.
“We do have Sunday school, there are a lot of children around,” he said. “We want them to feel safe.”
Dite said the act doesn’t clarify whether Sunday school is considered school as the law is written, but his interpretation does not include Sunday school as a prohibited area.
Dite said he recommends churches look at the law and see if it is in their best interest to make it a prohibited area.
“What’s to stop someone in the church from finding their way into the preschool area?” Dite said.
He said if the church doesn’t have it posted as a prohibited zone and someone accidentally found their way to the preschool because the building is interconnected, they could find themselves in violation of the concealed-carry act.
Any church that decides to designate itself as a prohibited area will need to post legal signage at every entryway into the building.
According to a news release from the Illinois State Police, a legal sign is described as “signs must be of a uniform design and the Illinois State Police is responsible for adopting rules for standardized signs. The Illinois State Police has proposed rules, which require a white background; no text (except the reference to the Illinois Code 430 ILCS 66/1) or marking within the one-inch area surrounding the graphic design; a depiction of a handgun in black ink with a circle around and diagonal slash across the firearm in red ink; and that the image be four inches in diameter. The sign in its entirety will measure 4 in x 6 in.”
Dite said that while the law stipulates “real property and parking area under the control of,” concealed-carry permit holders are able to pull into a parking lot of a prohibited building and render the weapon safe and lock it in their car before going to the building.