The Arkansas House of Representatives has approved a bill allowing concealed handguns in churches, despite hearing arguments that lawmakers should put their faith in God, not guns.
The bill, which passed on a 57-42 vote and now heads to the Senate, removes churches and other houses of worship from the list of places where concealed handguns are banned. Currently, the only private entities where concealed weapons are banned are churches and bars.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Beverly Pyle, R-Cedarville, said she introduced the measure after a series of church shootings across the country. She said it would be up to each individual church whether to allow the concealed guns.
“It is time we changed our concealed-handgun law to allow law-abiding citizens of the state of Arkansas the right to defend themselves and others should a situation happen in one of our churches,” she said.
But the measure drew opposition from a pair of pastors who are also legislators.
“Our churches are the backbone and the moral value of this nation,” said Rep. Steven Breedlove, a minister at the Valley View Church of Christ. “Many of our laws – thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal – are written because of the moral influences of our churches.”
Breedlove, D-Greenwood, said allowing concealed handguns won’t stop someone from opening fire inside a church.
“Ronald Reagan was completely surrounded by armed guards and he was still shot,” Breedlove said. “And that is why we must put our faith in God and not put our faith in something else … Let us keep the sanctity of churches and put our faith in God and not in guns.”
Another pastor, Rep. Otis Davis, said he couldn’t, in good conscience, return to his constituents in eastern Arkansas and say that he voted in favor of the bill.
“I can’t afford to look at my people that way,” said Davis, D-Earle. “You can’t vote with your head, you’ve got to vote with your heart.”
Pyle had an unexpected ally in liberal Rep. Lindsley Smith, who said she supported the bill because it was an issue of separation of church and state. Smith, D-Fayetteville, urged lawmakers to pass the bill because churches shouldn’t be treated differently from other private entities under state law, she said.
Pyle – who is not a concealed-carry permit holder – said afterward that she didn’t know what kind of reception her bill would get in the Senate. Gov. Mike Beebe said he’d sign the bill if it made it to his desk.
Pyle said at least 20 states have similar laws allowing churches to decide whether to permit concealed guns.
“I’m just thrilled that we got it done,” she said.
Rep. Rick Saunders, D-Hot Springs, said he opposed the bill because licensing for concealed-carry permit holders doesn’t also include a psychological component.
“I can see somebody getting angry in church,” said Saunders, who has a concealed-carry permit. “I can see the exact opposite happening with this bill (from what) the author intends to happen.”
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