The Republican-dominated Mississippi state Senate approved a bill on Tuesday allowing churchgoers carry concealed firearms without a permit while also allowing churches to designate and train members to serve as armed security.
Supporters of the bill also managed to hold off adding an amendment requiring churches to post signs if they were employing armed security under the bill.
"Unfortunately, our nation has seen tragic incidents carried out in places of worship," said Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves in a statement. "Mississippians should be able to attend church knowing they have security measures in place to protect them from anyone trying to do them harm."
Sen. Sean Tindell (R), who backed the measure, cited the mass shooting inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina last June as the inspiration behind allowing churches to designate a "sergeant-at-arms" and offer them legal protection for performing in that capacity.
"I wish we lived in a world where this bill wouldn't be necessary," said Gipson, who is also a pastor.
The "Mississippi Church Protection Act," as the bill is called, passed in a 36-14 vote, but not without strident objections from state Sen. Hillman Frazier (D), who "waved a sheathed sword" as he argued against the measure.
"We don't need to pimp the church for political purposes," Frazier said. "If you want to pass gun laws, do that, but don't use the church."
The bill has also been denounced by the Secular Coalition for America, which called it the worst state bill in the US.
"This legislation would put 'soldiers of God' above the law, allowing them to act as judge, jury, and executioner," coalition executive director Larry T. Decker said in a statement. "Religious institutions are already exempt from taxation, financial transparency, and many civil rights laws. The Mississippi Church Protection Act would constitute an unprecedented and dangerous next step. Belonging to a church should not afford anyone the same rights and protections as law enforcement."
The bill will now head to the state House for further deliberation.
[h/t The Friendly Atheist]