Fire-Safe Cigarettes Bill Advances; Guns in Churches Rejected in Ark.

March 2, 2009

An Arkansas House of Representatives committee has approved a bill that would require all Arkansas retailers to only sell so-called “fire-safe” cigarettes that self-extinguish when left unattended. A bill that would have allowed concealed handguns in churches was rejected, however, by a Senate panel.

The House Rules Committee voted to back the cigarette bill by Rep. Steve Harrelson, D-Texarkana. Harrelson says 38 other states and the District of Columbia have approved similar legislation. Fire-safe cigarettes are thicker in two spots and will extinguish if the cigarettes are not actively smoked.

The Senate Judiciary Committee stalled the guns-in-churches bill after opponents complained that allowing firearms defies the notion that religious buildings are sanctuaries.

The measure would have removed churches and other houses of worship from the list of places where concealed handguns are banned in Arkansas. Only churches and bars are on that list.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Beverly Pyle, R-Cedarville, told the panel after the vote that she may try again with the proposal. Gov. Mike Beebe has said he’d sign the bill if it made it to his desk.

Pyle said during the hearing that she wanted to give churches the option to allow firearms in their buildings. The House had approved the measure.

While Nathan Petty, a pastor at Beech Grove Baptist Church in Fordyce, testified in favor of the bill, Debra Carl Freeman, pastor of Westover Hills Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, told lawmakers that the proposal went against the nature of churches.

“We believe this bill … would fundamentally change the perception of sanctuaries in this state from places of safety, peace and openness into those of fear and suspicion,” Freeman said.

One legislator opposed to the measure was Sen. Hank Wilkins IV, D-Pine Bluff, who is a Methodist pastor.

“I would have a great deal of concern, fear and trembling, not so much for my own safety, but for the safety and the message we sent to our congregants to even encourage or allow the carrying of firearms in a sacred place of worship,” Wilkins said.

Sen. Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville, said she didn’t see the need for the bill.

“I don’t know of any church where the carrying of guns is a sacred belief intrinsic to the doctrine of that church, like the holding of communion might be,” Madison said.

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