Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mississippi Governor Signs Law Allowing Armed Church Members

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mississippi Governor Signs Law Allowing Armed Church Members

Article excerpt

JACKSON, Miss. * A holstered gun sat last week on top of a Bible on the desk of Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, as he signed a law allowing guns in churches, which he said would help protect worshippers from potential attackers.

The Church Protection Act allows places of worship to designate members to undergo firearms training so they can provide armed security for their congregations. It specifies that those designated can carry guns into church buildings and gives them legal protections.

The law also loosens gun permit requirements by allowing people to carry holstered weapons without a permit, making Mississippi the ninth state with such a law, NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter said.

The Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police says that part of the bill dismantles the state's licensing system and makes it harder to check if someone with a gun is a violent criminal. Other opponents say it endangers people by putting more guns in untrained hands.

The law strikes a chord in this Bible Belt state where many hunt and shoot for sport.

It's a difficult discussion that can get politicized and very emotional, flattening an issue with more nuance, said Pastor Pat Ward, who leads the Orchard Church in Oxford.

People in his congregation see both sides; they are racially diverse, conservative and liberal, some older, some still University of Mississippi students. His church is guarded by a team of experienced law enforcement officials.

"I think in the South people have a certain familiarity with guns and are also strong in their religious beliefs," Ward said. "But we don't always think about the relationship between them. What does our familiarity with guns say about us as people who claim to be following God, who preach about peace and love?"

At the Greater Bethlehem Temple in west Jackson, Pastor Ervin Ricks finds a bullet lodged in the walls about nine times a year. Many in his mostly black congregation of 1,200 have lost family members to gun violence. …

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