In-Depth: Church shootings and hate crimes in Texas

Church, stained glass
FILE (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Hate Crimes in Texas

The Texas James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act went into effect in 2001, related to the 1998 murder of Byrd, a black man in Jasper, Texas. Shawn Berry, Lawrence Russell Brewer and John King dragged Byrd for three miles behind a pick-up truck, eventually dumping his then-headless torso in front of an African-American cemetery.

The Act, in part, deals with crimes when the motivation was race or religion, allowing for enhanced penalties for the offense. It also helped lead to a federal law (commonly known as the Matthew Shepard Act of 2009).

Two of the men convicted of Byrd’s murder were sentenced to death row, and the other received a life sentence.

While there is not a specific enhanced penalty for murder in a church, you can receive an enhanced punishment for arson of a church. That crime would be considered a first-degree felony, which could carry a life sentence.

Recent History of Texas Church Shootings

1980 – Daingerfield, Texas
Alvin Lee King, a former school teacher, killed five and injured 10 people at the First Baptist Church in Daingerfield. The shooting happened after church members denied his request to appear as a character witness in a trial where he was charged with raping his daughter. He also shot himself at the scene but lived. He later committed suicide in jail before any conviction could happen.

1999 – Fort Worth, Texas
Larry Gene Ashbrook shot and killed seven and injured seven before killing himself in the Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worh. At first, church members believed he was pulling a prank. He was said to have kept singing after the shooting.

2005 – Sash, Texas
Frederick Leroy Cranshaw shot and killed a pastor and deacon in the lawn outside the Sash Assembly of God Church. Before killing himself, he turned and killed two women sitting in a truck at a stop sign near the church. The women jumped out of the truck and tried to run, but Cranshaw gunned them down.

2014 – Houston, Texas
Three teens are charged in the November 2014 shooting death of a 19-year-old on his way home from his job at a nearby Whataburger in Houston. The shooting happened in the parking lot of the Springwood Baptist Church. Authorities have said robbery was likely the motive. The trio is currently in the court process.

Carrying Handguns in Church in Texas

Currently in Texas, CHL holders can carry their concealed handguns into a place of religious worship (church, synagogue, etc), as long as the establishment does not have a 30.06 sign posted. What’s this sign? An establishment can post a 30.06 sign to restrict a CHL holder from entering with a concealed handgun. By Texas law, the sign must contain the following:

  • The proper statutory language in both English and Spanish
  • With words posted in block letters that are one-inch in height appearing in contrasting colors
  • Displayed in a conspicuous manner clearly visible to the public

In the past, concealed handguns were off limits in churches altogether, but subsequent updates to the law changed it so that churches must post this sign just like businesses. Someone in a position of authority at the church can also ban handguns on the premises by giving a CHL holder notice personally without posting the sign.30.06 Sign - Handguns Prohibited Sign

CHL holders violating the statute (carrying a handgun when a sign is posted or notice is given) can be charged with criminal trespass – a Class A misdemeanor.

The law will be further updated to include the open carry of handguns (in a shoulder or belt holster) by license holders on January 1, 2016.

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