St. Louis Jewish communal leaders oppose proposed gun legislation


(Loren ElliottAFP/Getty Images)

Eric Berger, Associate Editor

Even if Missouri passes a law that would allow people to bring a gun into a synagogue without the clergy’s permission, Congregation Temple Israel does not plan to change its proscription on firearms.

“We are going to stick to our guns and sticking to our guns means that we are not changing our policy,” said Rabbi Amy Feder of the Reform synagogue. “We absolutely, positively, will not allow guns in our building, except for the police officers who are there to help protect us.”

That could become an issue because the Missouri State House recently approved legislation that would allow people with a concealed carry permit to bring guns into places of worship without the permission of religious leaders.

If a congregation would like to ban people from bringing guns in, it would then need to post signs that are at least 11 inches by 14 inches in conspicuous locations stating that firearms are off limits.

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On April 19, the House voted 109-36 in favor of the legislation, which was sponsored by State Rep. Rodger Reedy, R- Windsor, and it is now before the State Senate.

Missouri Republican lawmakers have in recent years introduced similar bills which have been not become law.

Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, said the legislation “severely impacts our community’s ability to determine our own safety.”

“We want to be able to control where weapons are. If individual congregations decide to hire private security or off-duty police officers or work with police departments, then you have one individual who is responsible for the safety of the congregation, as opposed to when you open that widely and can’t control where weapons might be, it creates much more of a sense of fear,” said Picker Neiss.

Jewish communal leaders are not alone in their opposition to the proposed legislation. In 2018, then-Archbishop of St. Louis Robert Carlson threatened to sue and said such a law would “broaden Second Amendment rights at the expense of the First Amendment right of religious liberty.”

The Archdiocese of St. Louis, a Roman Catholic organization, remains opposed to such legislation.

“The faith communities have been so clear about their positions on this, nothing has changed, and yet they keep on bringing it up, time and time again,” said Marie Kenyon, director of the Archdiocese Peace & Justice Commission.

Still, Mark Cantor, a local Jewish attorney, thinks that the Jewish community faces a unique threat of violence; that every Jew should own a gun; and that synagogues would be safer if they didn’t rely only on police officers or security guards and instead had numerous congregants with guns.

“We should have congregants that are trained and experienced and armed because if they can save one life, it’s like saving the world,” he said, adding that he thinks  declaring a synagogue a gun free zone “is a dumb position.”