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Williston leaders reject request for concealed weapons in church

WILLISTON -- City commissioners here rejected a request from 10 Williston pastors to let churches decide whether to allow concealed weapons.

Pastors brought a petition to the Williston City Commission on Tuesday night with concerns about mass shootings across the country and the safety of churches as gun-free zones.

"The simple, brutal hard truth of this is somewhere in this country there is some evil man that is plotting another mass murder," said the Rev. Will Page, associate pastor of Cornerstone First Baptist Church.

The pastors said the churches didn't necessarily plan to allow concealed weapons, but they wanted the decision left up to church leadership, not government.

Faith United Methodist Church, which is in downtown Williston, had an incident Sunday morning that caused alarm for the congregation, said the Rev. Mark Britton.

A man who smelled like alcohol moved to the front of the church during the Scripture reading, prompting parents to pull their children closer. The man knelt at the altar and prayed, but people were unsure of his intentions, Britton said.

"What if that guy's intent would have been to harm me and my congregation members?" Britton said. "That's why I think churches should be allowed on a case-by-case basis to discuss this and come to a rational decision whether to support it."

Mayor Ward Koeser recommended referring the matter to a committee for further study, but commissioners expressed concerns about the safety of allowing guns in church.

Commissioner Tate Cymbaluk questioned what would happen if 15 people in a service have concealed weapons.

"You're going to have crossfire and all hell's going to break loose," Cymbaluk said.

Commissioner Howard Klug asked how much training concealed weapon permit holders have.

The commission voted 4-1 to deny the petition, with Koeser the lone dissenting vote.

State legislators also are debating the issue of concealed weapons in churches. House Bill 1283 would allow concealed weapon permit holders to carry a weapon in the church building with authorization from the church and notification of law enforcement.