Guns in churches could be common

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Mississippi Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would allow churches to have armed security guards during services.

The Mississippi Church Protection Act, HB 786, passed by a 36 to 14 vote.

Under the bill, places of worship could designate members to undergo firearms training and carry guns to protect the congregation. Designated security members would participate in firearms training and carry an enhanced concealed carry permit.

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The bill now goes back to the House for its reconsideration.

Debate over the bill elicited clashing interpretations of Christian scripture, and questions of what Jesus would do.

Soft-spoken Sen. Hillman Frazier, a Democrat from the capital city of Jackson, spoke while brandishing a sheathed sword before the chamber. He cited the story of Jesus healing the high priest’s servant after a disciple cut off the servant’s ear as Jesus was being arrested.

“We don’t need to pimp the church for political purposes,” Frazier said. “If you want to pass a bill liberalizing gun laws, then do that. Don’t use the church.”

Senate Judiciary A Committee Chairman Sean Tindell, a Republican from Gulfport, said congregations need legal protection after last summer’s mass shooting that claimed nine lives at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The bill would shield church members who are officially designated from civil or criminal liability if they shoot someone committing a violent crime. The members would be required to have enhanced concealed carry training or a police or military background.

In Oxford, Fish Robinson, pastor of The Community Church, said his church is in a somewhat unique position since their services are held at the Oxford Activity Center, which does not allow weapons and is excluded from the open carry law as it’s considered a park.

“They only allow someone who is a certified law enforcement officer to carry,” Robinson said. “However, I am blessed to have federal, state and local law enforcement as a part of our congregation.”

The church already has a plan for action in case the unspeakable would occur.

“We are in the process of working with those officers who are already trained on how to handle a situation,” he said. “However, as pastor, I don’t think it’s ideal to have a pistol on me.”

Robinson said he’s fine with the legislation and understands why it was passed by the Senate, but isn’t exactly sure why it was needed.

“As far as I understand the law, anyone with an enhanced carry permit could already bring them into a church,” he said.

The current law allows people to carry a gun with an enhanced carry permit into a privately owned church, unless the church itself has posted that no weapons are allowed.

The proposed bill goes beyond church security and would allow people to carry guns in holsters without a state concealed weapons permit, a feature that drew opponents’ criticism. That would expand on last year’s state law allowing people to carry guns in purses or briefcases without a permit.

The measure also asserts that no state official can enforce any federal executive order or administrative rule that violates the constitutions of Mississippi or the nation, challenging the principle that federal law overrides state law.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.