By David Waters
Sunday’s fatal shooting at an Illinois church has revived an effort to pass a bill allowing concealed weapons in Arkansas churches, as well as a broader discussion about whether guns in houses of worship are legally or spiritually appropriate.
Does the Second Amendment conflict with the Sixth Commandment?
“It’s not about gun rights, it’s about church rights,” Nathan Petty, a pastor at Beech Grove Baptist Church in Fordyce, Ark., told the Associated Press when the bill was being considered last month. “Is it right for the state to make that decision for the church?”
On the other hand, is it right for anyone to allow guns to be brought into a house of God? “I believe it would disturb the sanctity and tranquility of church” said Pastor John Phillips told the AP. Phillips was shot twice in the back 23 years ago in his own Ward Chapel Church in Little Rock.
About 20 states permit houses of worship to decide whether to allow weapons inside. In Arkansas, concealed weapons are banned in two places — churches and bars. State Rep. Beverly Pyle says she plans to reintroduce a bill next week that would remove churches from the list. Her first bill passed the House last month, but it came up three votes short in a Senate committee.
“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 told AP.
Most religions support the right of self-defense, but do we really think armed ushers or pistol-packin’ preachers are going to prevent crazed gunmen from ignoring the laws of God and man with their own concealed weapons?
Concealed weapons are banned everywhere in Illinois, but that didn’t stop a 27-year-old man from walking up to Rev. Fred Winters in the middle of a worship service, pulling out a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol and shooting him to death.
I understand the desire for personal security, especially in this gun-toting culture. But if legislators or preachers believe guns are the solution — even where people are gathered to worship the Prince of Peace — then why stop with concealed weapons?
Why not allow armed guards, police officers, even soldiers to patrol sanctuaries? Why rely on private citizens carrying concealed weapons to secure a congregation? Why not turn to professionals? At the very least, there are security training courses that will teach church leaders how to react to life-threatening situations.
Mark Deymaz, a pastor at Mosaic Church in Little Rock who is opposed to the legislation, told AP that church leaders have a responsibility to protect the people who spend time in their buildings. “A good shepherd would not allow a wolf near his flock,” he said.
Something tells me The Good Shepherd would prefer that we find non-violent ways to protect the flock.