WASHINGTON -- As Wisconsin's concealed carry law goes into effect, the state's Catholic bishops are urging parishioners to keep their weapons out of church.
"The Catholic Church has a long tradition of sanctuary, allowing people feeling violence to take refuge in church buildings as a place of safety and protection. For the most part, this practice has worked well because most people respect the sacred, peaceful nature of such holy places," Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki said in a Monday statement, which was also signed by bishops from Madison, Superior, Green Bay and La Crosse.
"Whatever an individual parish decides to do regarding its policy on concealed weapons," the statement continued, "we ask that all people seriously consider not carrying weapons into church buildings as a sign of reverence for these sacred spaces."
This is not the first time that the state's Catholic bishops have spoken out against the concealed carry law. In May, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference released a statement urging legislators to not pass the bill.
According to a spokesperson from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, no parishioners have contacted the bishops about this week's statement.
On Tuesday, Wisconsin became the 49th state to allow its residents to carry concealed weapons. Previously the state had an open carry policy, which required owners to wear their gun in plain sight.
Under the new law, which was signed by Governor Scott Walker in July, the gun does not have to be visible so long as the owner is properly permitted. Any qualified gun owner can apply for the permit, and the state must process the application within 45 days.
By 3:45 p.m. yesterday, the state's Department of Justice had issued over 120 licenses to qualified applicants. The DOJ also reported that its website received almost 10 times its usual traffic within 12 hours of the law going into effect.
Ultimately, it's up to the individual parishes to decide whether or not to allow guns on church premises. While some states, like Georgia, have laws that prohibit guns in places of worship, there's no such provision in the Wisconsin statute.
The bishops' statement has earned praise from pro-gun control groups, who have lobbied against the proliferation of concealed carry laws in recent years.
"Our faith institutions are places of worship and peace where people attend to seek solace, hope, and spiritual renewal. Loaded and hidden guns are violent instruments and they don't belong in these sacred spaces, where families gather and worship," said James Winkler, chair of Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, a national religious coalition affiliated with the Brady Center.
The National Rifle Association, which supported the concealed carry legislation, did not return a request for comment.