Arkansas considers allowing concealed weapons in churches
Muriel Kane
Published: Saturday February 14, 2009

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A bill moving through the Arkansas state legislature would allow worshippers to bring concealed weapons into churches if the church has approved that as its policy. At present, holders of concealed weapons permits cannot bring guns into bars, schools, government facilities, athletic events, or houses of worship.

The controversial legislation, which passed the Arkansas House this week and is now pending before a Senate committee, was introduced by Rep. Beverly Pyle in response to several recent church shootings. However, its most active supporters insist that their primary concern is upholding the separation of church and state and that the state does not have the constitutional right to prevent churches from setting their own rules.

The bill's strongest opponents appear to be the pastors themselves, One minister, Ken Burton, suggested there were political motivations behind the legislation, telling the Baxter Bulletin that "heís aware of staunch political affiliations between candidates for public office, elected officials and the National Rifle Associationís pro-gun platform."

Several ministers are concerned about the negative effect that concealed guns could have on the peace and tranquility of church services. Pastor Ron Rector suggested, "Some places still need to be sacred, and that is one place I hope would remain sacred."

Rev. Mark Lenneville similarly noted, "Itís not in line with what we believe theologically and has not been the tradition for Christianity through the centuries. Often, the church is viewed as a sanctuary where the government does not have power and authority, a place where people could seek sanctuary from the government and other outsiders."

Law enforcement officials are already permitted to bring weapons into places of worship, and Rev. Jim Freeman, in an op-ed for the Arkansas Times, suggested, "If the safety of those attending worship is the real issue, then uniformed security personnel -- armed or not -- would be a far greater deterrent to violence than the possibility that someone with a permit to carry a concealed weapon might actually have done so at any given service of worship. Further, if there were to be an incident inside a place of worship, what would someone with a concealed weapon do? A confrontation between armed individuals could put bystanders at far greater risk."

Pastor John Phillips, who was shot in the back 23 years ago by a relative of a parishioner, agreees that the carrying of guns by parishioners would not necessary be helpful in that kind of situation. He stated to the Associated Press, "People are not going to react the way they think they're going to react in the heat of the moment. It was utter chaos when I was shot."

Freeman concluded his op-ed by noting that "Christians worship a God who, in the person of Jesus Christ, died a horrific death for the sake of the world. For this reason, Christians are called to live lives of greater vulnerability to the world, not greater safety from it. As long as anyone is at risk from gun violence -- students, teachers, doctors, law enforcement officials, elected leaders, cultural or ethnic minorities -- the church has a share in that risk and an obligation to demonstrate the resolve for love over violence."