By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist camp in Illinois plans to host a National Rifle Association pistol course intended to help participants qualify for permits under the state’s newly passed concealed-carry law.
The eight-hour course is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 7, at Streator Baptist Camp, one of two Christian conference centers operated by the Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated Illinois Baptist State Association.
Camp manager Larry Walter said the conference center is hosting the event but is not a sponsor.
“Much of society is uninformed about actual realities they live in,” Walter said in an e-mail. “We feel learning the safety and responsible use of firearms is not only a privilege but also a responsibility of serious U.S. citizens, and protecting ourselves is a firm biblical principle.”
The Times in Ottowa, Ill., carried a story about the course Aug. 6. It will be led by Raymond and Tina Odle of Kankakee, Ill., NRA certified instructors and training counselors for 15 years.
“It is likely that the eight-hour NRA pistol course will apply toward the necessary training” for concealed carry, says a flier and application form on National Rifle Association of America letterhead. “Right now it looks like the requirement will be a total of 16 hours of training.”
Illinois became the final state to drop its ban on concealed weapons by adopting a carry law July 9 over objections of Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. The legislation ordered last year by a federal court stirred debate over gun violence sparked nationwide by the December shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 students and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Debate split Democrats in the legislature between the rural south and urban north. After its passage, Mary Shepard, a church treasurer who survived a savage beating by an intruder at First Baptist Church in Anna, Ill., in 2009, and the Illinois State Rifle Association sought an emergency injunction to allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons now instead of waiting the months expected for establishing the permitting process.
Shepard filed a motion July 30 in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals pointing out that the court has already ruled the previous law banning the carrying of ready-to-use guns outside the home unconstitutional and contending that delaying implementation continues to violate citizen’s Second Amendment rights.
Shepard, 73, a resident of Cobden, Ill., and NRA member, claims that because of the Illinois statutes she was unarmed while working at the church on Sept. 28, 2009, when she and a 76-year-old co-worker became victims of “a heinous and unconscionable criminal assault and battery.”
Their assailant, 46-year-old Willis Bates of Anna, pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted murder in August 2010 and was sentenced to 23 years in prison.
“Despite her being licensed in two states to do so, Mrs. Shepard was not carrying a handgun on her person, and therefore was unable to defend herself, when she was viciously attacked and brutalized at the hands of a six-foot-three-inch 245-pound man with a violent past and a criminal record,” lawyers said in a lawsuit against the state filed in May 2011. “Mrs. Shepard would have been carrying a handgun at the time of this heinous attack had the aforementioned Illinois statutes not prevented her from doing so.”
According to the lawsuit, Shepard sustained skull fractures, fractures to both cheeks, brain swelling, shattered teeth, a concussion, hearing loss, injuries to the vertebrae in her neck requiring surgical implants, torn rotator cuffs in her shoulders, an injured clavicle and extensive reconstructive surgery to her upper arm. She has undergone numerous surgeries, physical therapy and was unable to drive for more than 18 months.
In recent years, a number of churches have offered concealed-carry certification classes both to promote personal safety and to bring new people into the church.
“The disciples carried weapons,” Derek Melton, assistant chief of police in Pryor Creek, Okla., and senior pastor at Pryor Creek Community Church, told Religion News Service in 2012. “Peter cut a man’s ear off. I believe if more honest citizens were armed, the safer our communities would be.”
Tri-City Baptist Church in Conover, N.C., sponsored a concealed-carry permit class in March.
“What we stand for is the Christian home, and I think this is keeping with the word of God,” Pastor Ruffin Snow told Charlotte NBC affiliate WCNC. “It’s not a matter of whether I love my neighbor, but that doesn’t mean we are not to protect our families, so I don’t see any contradiction whatsoever.” Brad Foster, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Dumas, Texas, cited interest in self-defense and protecting families in the Amarillo Globe-News in February.
“We are always looking for ways to offer ministry and service to our community, and we never wanted it to be just for church members,” Foster said. “People all over the area are expressing an interest.”
“The main purpose of this class is to handle a firearm safely and know when to shoot or just be a good witness,” Foster said. “There are parameters. You need to know where to carry, where you can’t carry and know you’re responsible for that round.”
Richard Cizik of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good said he grew up in gun country and understands where such people are coming from, but “what these churches are proposing compromises the essential message of the gospel, that Jesus was first of all a peacemaker.”
“I am not intrinsically anti-Second Amendment,” Cizik told RNS. “However, this seems to be an ethically suspect message. The gospel should be ‘Put your faith in Christ.’ This seems to be ‘Put your faith in Glock.’”
Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association, said historically some IBSA land adjacent to the camp has been used for hunting “so it probably wouldn’t be unheard of for a firearm group to rent some portion of the camp property.” He said he hasn’t received any negative feedback about the event.
Walter said Streator Baptist Camp has hosted an Olympic-style competitive marksmanship camp teaching young people responsibility, leadership and common sense about weapons.
“Television, movies, and the media, etc., have given the general public a false perception of the firearms debate,” Walter said. “As society continues to move in this direction we feel a responsibility to do our small part to inform those who wish to become informed.”