Clergy react to Arkansas Legislature repealing ban on guns in churches

Published: Thursday, Feb. 7 2013 5:10 p.m. MST

The repeal of a law that banned guns in Arkansas churches has some clergy wondering whether they and their congregants will be safer because of the change.

The Arkansas House passed the measure on Monday and Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, is expected to sign the Church Protection Act into law.

He also plans to keep talking with lawmakers and church leaders.

The Arkansas governor's spokesman, Matt DeCample, said Beebe "wants to continue the discussion with lawmakers and church leaders this session."

"We've had members of the faith community reach out to us with concerns, particularly liability concerns for churches," spokesman Matt DeCample told Reuters.

Among those expressing concerns is The Rev. Scott Walters, pastor of Christ Episcopal Church in downtown Little Rock. He wrote in a letter to the Arkansas Times that the ban, while likely never enforced, did give clergy a better tool to avert a disaster than letting churches decide whether concealed weapons should be allowed in their sanctuaries.

"The Legislature's action has already impacted our ministry at Christ Church. It's given us one more hurdle, one more fear to deal with as we try to do our Christian duty and welcome a stranger into our midst as if he or she were Christ himself," Walter wrote. "Its impact is not hypothetical. It is real. Loving our neighbor just got a little harder."

But Pastor Elmo Johnson of Third Street Baptist Church in Little Rock said that although he won't carry a gun, he is not opposed to the idea of letting churchgoers pack heat after an armed robbery during a Sunday service three years ago.

"It was devastating, especially to the children," he said, according to OzarksFirst.com.

Republican state Sen. Bryan King, an original sponsor of the bill, called churches "soft targets," according to CNN, and said the repeal was important for rural churches, where it could take up to an hour for police to respond.

The website Guns.com reported that another bill Arkansas lawmakers are considering would keep private the names of approximately 130,000 concealed carry permit holders, which are currently public.

"The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bruce Holland, R-Greenwood, told Fox News that he proposed the change after the Journal News, an NYC-based newspaper, published the names and addresses of (Concealed Carry Weapon) permit holders following the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting."

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