I attended the annual session of the United Methodist Lawyer's Conference last Thursday at my church. These sessions are usually pretty interesting. Or as interesting as any Continuing Legal Education session is I should say. But it was just down the street, it was free and they served lunch. Besides I needed the CLE hours.
Generally speaking, these conferences center around such issues as copyright, taxation (or how to lose the tax exemption), protection of children, and the like. The United Methodist Church got serious about a lot of these issues in light of all of the troubles that beset our Catholic brethren 10 years or so ago. So we tend to talk about them a lot in these meetings.
The last speaker for the day was a lawyer who formally represented businesses and financial institutions. His topic concerned Arkansas' new "Open Carry" law concerning firearms. Arkansas, like some other states, has gone completely mad and passed legislation that allows folks to pack a weapon on them open and notoriously (to borrow language from the law of real property). Our Attorney General has opined that this applies to handguns as well as AK 47s. Perfect.
Not that I am an expert in this area of the law but it is my understanding that you are not supposed to bring the damned things to into churches. And I'm sure my church bans firearms on the premises. But human nature being what it is and this being Arkansas, Baker felt compelled to ask the group the formerly preposterous question of "Does your church have a policy concerning folks that show up packing?"
"I mean," he said. "What are you supposed to do? Ask one of the ushers to have a word with him? Go get the security guard? You do have a guard don't you? And what if it is generally known in the congregation that the guy with the gun has it in for another church member who is present that day because he felt that the other guy beat him out of some money on a business deal? Do you-you being the church- have a duty to warn the other guy?"
Most of my fellow lawyers in the room looked at each other with "hell if I know" looks.
"Well, you need a policy," he said. "And here's another question. Does your church have a policy regarding active shooters on the premises? 30% of all mass shootings occur in churches you know. Do you fling open the doors and let people escape? Do you lock it down? What if somebody who would have preferred to escape gets shot during the lockdown? Has the church increased its exposure to liability under those facts?"
There was more.
"Is the church locked during the day? If it is, who makes the decisions on who gains entrance? Is there a policy on that or does dear old Mrs. Johnson who volunteers during the week make that decision? What if you take the view that the church should remain open to all? Eventually, somebody armed and crazy may come in. What are the ramifications to either scenario from a liability perspective? We have to start thinking about these things."
I guess so. We're lawyers. We're the ones that think about this stuff.
As an aside, I asked a police officer acquaintance of mine what he thought about the new law the other day. He chuckled ruefully and shook his head.
"It wasn't exactly Mayberry out there before they allowed open carry. This just makes law enforcement harder and more dangerous. I mean, what are the rules? What if I confront somebody? All I can do is ask him what his intent (for being armed) is. Do you think a criminal is going to tell me the truth?"
Nope. It ain't exactly Mayberry out there. And the church house is no longer a safe haven.
But we Methodist lawyers were sent back to our respective communities to discuss formulating policy for responses to the unthinkable in a world gone completely mad.
I guess somebody has to do it.