Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant this morning signed a controversial bill that will allow churches to have armed security, a proposal that reportedly originated as a reaction to a South Carolina church shooting last year that killed nine people.
The Washington Times quoted Pastor Pat Ward at the Orchard Church in Oxford, who acknowledged that this is a lightning rod issue. So far, nobody has sarcastically wondered whose side God is on in this controversy.
“I think in the South people have a certain familiarity with guns and are also strong in their religious beliefs,” Ward told a reporter. “But we don’t always think about the relationship between them. What does our familiarity with guns say about us as people who claim to be following God, who preach about peace and love?”
Peace and love didn’t overcome a gunman who opened fire last year at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. It was that incident that inspired Mississippi State Rep. Andy Gipson, who is also a minister, to author the legislation.
Gipson was quoted by the Jackson Clarion Ledger observing, “I wish we lived in a world where this bill wouldn’t be necessary.”
A Republican, Gipson was also quoted by Politico: “The bill is effective immediately and, among other things, extends the protections of the castle doctrine to local churches who elect to establish a trained and licensed security team for protection of the congregation.”
In December 2007, a gunman identified as Matthew J. Murray killed two people and wounded two others at the Youth with a Mission training center in Arvada, Colo. Later, he arrived at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, killing two sisters outside of the church and then entering the building, where he encountered Jeanne Assam, an armed member of the church, who shot him. That confrontation may have prevented further carnage inside the sanctuary.
That fact has never been lost on self-defense advocates who oppose the idea of “gun free zones” that include many churches. Prohibiting firearms in various locations, including churches, has never prevented crazed killers from ignoring such prohibitions.
Under the new Mississippi law, according to CBS News, churches can designate people who can carry guns in their buildings. Another section of the law allows carrying holstered sidearms without a permit, a provision that was opposed by the police chiefs, according to published reports.
NPR quoted Lorenzo Neal, pastor at the New Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Jackson. He opposed the legislation.
“I actually believe it may create a greater sense of anxiety because now people are unaware who may be carrying a weapon,” Neal told NPR. “And the church is a place where people are expected to come and … not have to worry about their safety per se.”
Indeed, that appears to be the purpose of Gipson’s legislation.
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