A proposed law to allow guns in churches would nullify current concealed carry permit laws in Mississippi.
More than 400 lines into the National Rifle Association-sponsored bill called the “Mississippi Church Protection Act” is a clause that would allow citizens to carry pistols or revolvers on a belt or shoulder holster or in a concealed container without first obtaining a permit. This provision makes no reference to being in a place of worship.
Current state law requires that people carrying concealed weapons obtain a concealed carry permit. Additionally, the law mandates that anyone obtaining a concealed carry permit be checked for any history of felony convictions, mental illness or drug abuse – all three of which would prohibit the issuance of the carry permit.
“Once Governor Bryant signs the bill, Mississippi will become the ninth state to pass legislation recognizing a law-abiding adult’s ability to carry a concealed pistol or revolver for personal protection without government-mandated permitting or fees,” said an NRA statement issued earlier this week.
Mississippi would be the ninth state in the country with unrestricted concealed carry laws, according to the NRA. The others are Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Opponents of the legislation – which would also allow members to carry weapons inside churches and other worship venues – say the concealed carry changes are purposefully buried in the bill so many lawmakers and citizens would not catch it. In more than an hour and a half of House and Senate debate in March, just two lawmakers discussed the concealed carry aspect of the bill on the chamber floors.
“The church stuff is absolutely a front by the NRA to get this concealed carry deal passed, and they stuck it so deep in that bill so no one would catch it,” said Ken Winter, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police. “Anyone will have the ability to carry a gun on them. Our focus is to make sure our officers go home safe every night, and this bill absolutely jeopardizes those chances.”
Winter said he voiced his concern to lawmakers when he first heard about the bill in February. He said he met in March with Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, R-Florence, and Senate Judiciary A Chairman Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport, about the legislation.
Neither Reeves nor Tindell could be reached Friday. One of the bill’s sponsors Rep. William Tracy Arnold, R-Booneville, said he spoke with the NRA before the bill was first passed in the House.
“I don’t have a problem with this law, and the local law enforcement around (Booneville) doesn’t have a problem with it,” Arnold said. “Citizens have the constitutional right to be armed, and I fully support that.”
The bill, which is at Gov. Phil Bryant’s desk for signature, would allow members of churches and other places of worship to carry weapons and be granted legal protection if they discharged their weapon inside. Those members who wish to carry weapons inside churches must obtain an enhanced carry permit and be logged in official church documents, according to the bill.
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.
Forty-nine lawmakers – 35 in the House and 14 in the Senate – voted against the bill, while the conversation on both floors focused on concerns about guns in churches.
Arnold, who is a senior pastor at The Vineyard Church in Booneville, said he often carries a gun inside his church for protection, and there is already a security team of individuals in place inside the church.
“In the world we’re living in today, people are going into churches and shooting people because they disagree with that body’s set of beliefs,” Arnold said. “If someone comes in a church shooting, it’s only common sense for people to be able to protect themselves.”