A bill that would allow guns inside churches and give legal protection to church members with guns passed in the Senate Tuesday morning.
The bill, which was authored in the House of Representatives, would require that church members who wish to carry weapons inside be trained for an enhanced carry permit and be logged in official church documents.
There would be no limit on number of members allowed to carry guns inside, and the law would apply to other activities at any church like school and child care services.
If Mississippi churches chose to opt out of the law completely and continue to ban guns from their facilities, they could, said Sen. Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport. The law would go into effect immediately after its passing.
“What I hold dear and want to protect is my relationship with God, my country and my family,” said Tindell, who chairs the Judiciary A committee. “The self defense of those things is a God-given right from God above. Our forefathers recognized in the second amendment the right to bear arms, and this bill would extend that right.”
Tindell said the bill was drafted in response, in large part, to the 2015 shootings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.. The floor debate on the bill was lively, with multiple senators questioning various sections of the bill.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, pressed Tindell on multiple provisions of the bill, particularly a section that states: “No federal executive order, agency order, law … that violates the United States Constitution or the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 shall be enforced or ordered to be enforced by any official, agent or employee of this state or a political subdivision thereof.”
Bryan asked Tindell directly if Tindell thought the Mississippi Constitution took precedence over federal orders. Tindell replied “I do,” which garnered applause from a few senators.
“We’re creating a problem we don’t necessarily need,” said Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood. “Everybody’s going to be packing a .45, even the ministers. The church is a different institution. We ought to be in one accord there.”
Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville, proposed an amendment that would force churches to post signage indicating the presence of church member security teams. He also expressed concerns with day care facilities at churches, like one he sends his own son to in Greenville. The amendment failed.
Sen. Angela Turner, D-West Point, tossed Tindell a hypothetical situation in which she was visiting a church that was not her own.
“What if there was some spirited worshiping going on, members of the armed security team decide to take action and I was shot and killed,” Turner said. “If I was shot and killed, could my family members sue the church for wrongful death and win in court? In that instance, the perceived spirit of worship could be misidentified, and I’d die. Doesn’t this bill let those with guns make that determination?”
Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, who was Judiciary A committee chairman last year, raised questions about contracted security companies that churches might already have in place. Hopson asked Tindall if this bill would allow those companies to have the same immunity as the armed members would receive under the bill.
“The concept overall I’m okay with, but it looks like some of the details aren’t quite worked out,” Hopson said.
Tindell said he had spoken to numerous law enforcement agencies and committees prior to the vote Tuesday, and most of them supported this legislation.
“If churches think this is something they want to do, they ought to be able to do it,” Tindell said. “We have a sergeant of arms here in this chamber, and he’s here to protect this body. Churches should have the same right.”
Since the bill was slightly altered in the Senate committee before Tuesday’s vote, it will go back to the House for concurrence. If members of the House concur, it will go to the governor’s desk for signature.
Church members who wish to carry guns must have concealed carry permit and enhanced carry permit, which requires training in Mississippi.
Members of each participating church must be registered in official church documents, such as meeting minutes or bylaws.
Law would grant legal immunity for registered church members who use guns when “crimes of violence” are being committed inside churches.
No limit on number of registered gun carriers per church, as long as they are registered in church documents.
Would include non-worship activities, like day care or day school on church grounds.