One of the first contributions of the new Republican-dominated Arkansas Legislature apparently will be to open the doors of our churches to gun-toting worshippers. That is surely the ultimate oxymoron.
At a time when a national debate rages over gun control in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, Arkansas’ leaders advocate abolishing one control as an answer.
The Senate Judiciary Committee last week unanimously passed Senate Bill 71, sponsored by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, and it was scheduled for its third reading in the Senate on Monday. Some Democrats have said they think it’s a good bill, and even Gov. Mike Beebe has said he will likely sign it if it reaches his desk.
Where is the common sense among our leaders that resulted in similar bills, one also sponsored by King, dying in committee in 2009 and 2011? At that time some clergy and legislators spoke out against the legislation, saying that guns should not be allowed in a house of God and that doing so went against Christian teachings.
Indeed, have any of these people who seem to be hell-bent on passing the legislation asked themselves: What would Jesus do?
SB 71 is absurdly called the Church Protection Act of 2013, and any of those who support the bill will, sooner or later, have blood on their hands.
It’s a wrongheaded response to an unlikely problem. Some people imagine that because a crazed shooter could enter their church during a worship service, someone needs to be armed — just in case. And supporters of the legislation point out that some rural Arkansas churches have had break-ins.
My own church had a robbery last year. A man walked into a church dinner and ran off with the money being collected from those attending. If someone carrying a concealed gun had been there, would the robber have been shot? Should we shoot him over the theft of money we’d have given him if he had asked?
We have had shootings in churches across the country. One concealed carry advocacy site lists 18 such incidents between 1999 and 2010, none of them in Arkansas. However, a church member was murdered at a church in Wynne two years ago, though not during a service or event.
If we need armed guards in our churches, as we apparently do in our schools, they should be well-trained and thoroughly investigated. Otherwise, you’re really just facilitating a shooting.
Who’s going to determine whether each person carrying a gun actually has a concealed-carry permit? Will each carrier be required to sign in? And how will you know that others not permitted don’t bring a gun, too — you know, just in case a gunfight breaks out during "Amazing Grace." Will each church need a metal detector at the door to separate the good guys from the bad?
We should also know by now that not every person who manages to obtain a concealed-carry permit is really level-headed and without anger issues. We’ve even had a case here in which a permitted carrier pulled a gun in a traffic dispute. Who’s to say that won’t happen if someone sits in the wrong pew?
King’s proposal is sadly lacking in details for implementation. It repeals a previous ban, leaving the decision up to each individual church, and declares an emergency, making it effective immediately if signed into law.
Louisiana, where there had been fatal church shootings, passed a guns-in-church law in 2010, but it has some restrictions. According to a press report, the head of a church must "announce verbally or in weekly newsletters or bulletins that there will be individuals armed on the property as members of the security force," and those individuals must receive "eight hours of tactical training each year."
King’s proposal has no such requirements. Your church won’t even have to tell you that it’s allowing some individuals to carry their guns.
If we’re going to do this, let’s at least require the church to post a sign at the door, specifying either "No Guns Allowed" or "Bring Your Own Weapon." That way people will know before they enter an "Old West" sanctuary.
With the help of a National Rifle Association spokesman, the Senate Judiciary Committee defeated a proposed amendment that would have required a church allowing concealed-carry permit holders to have a liability insurance policy of at least $100,000. So you will enter these facilities at your own risk.
This Arkansas legislative push comes in spite of national polls that indicate strong support for tightening gun-control loopholes. A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 76 percent of respondents oppose allowing concealed weapons in houses of worship and that only 20 percent favored.
There is ample evidence to show that the spate of massacres in this country isn’t going to be solved by either more gun controls or fewer. The shooters are almost invariably mentally ill, but our society failed to detect and-or do anything about their illness.
If our political leaders really want to protect our schools, churches and other public places from crazed gunmen, that’s where they need to focus their efforts. But then, it’s easier to demagogue the issue with bills like SB71.
Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.