Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

Arkansas' Senate will soon vote on a bill that would allow churches to decide whether worshipers could bring weapons into church. Last Wednesday, the bill passed in the state's House by a 57-42 vote, which prompted concern from many church leaders.

"I believe it would disturb the sanctity and tranquility of church," said John Phillips, a pastor who was shot 23 years ago as he concluded a service at his Little Rock church. "Do you want ushers to stop you at the door and frisk you? ... 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."

Current Arkansas law allows those with concealed weapons permits to carry their guns anywhere except houses of worship and bars. The current bill, proposed by Rep. Beverly Pyle in response to the numerous church shootings around the country in recent years, would give churches the final decision on whether to allow members to carry arms into their sanctuaries.

"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," Pyle argued.

For many pastors and government watchdog groups alike, however, the main issue isn't one of churches protecting themselves against guns but instead against government infringement.

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"It's not about gun rights, it's about church rights," said Nathan Petty, who leads Beech Grove Baptist Church in Fordyce. "Is it right for the state to make that decision for the church?"

Added Grant Exton, executive director of the Arkansas Concealed Carry Association: "It's a problem of (the government) telling churches what to do in an area of moral issue, where that should be none of their business." According to Exton, of the 48 states that currently allow concealed weapons to be carried, 42 place the decision with individual churches. "We have the government in an area that it shouldn't be." [AP, 2/12/09, 2/14/09]

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