Louisiana Moves To Allow Armed Worshippers

By Ed Anderson / The Times-Picayune
Religion News Service

BATON ROUGE, La. (RNS) People qualified to carry concealed weapons should be able to keep them strapped on in a church or temple as a way to enhance security, a state House committee decided Wednesday (April 28).

The House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice voted 8-3 for bill that would allow a church to hire a security force or create its own by authorizing the church's board or pastor to tap parishioners who have concealed weapons permits to bring them to church.

Louisiana law currently bans weapons in houses of worship. The bill, sponsored by Republican Henry Burns, does not force churches to participate.

"If we are going to turn a church into the wild, wild West, how can we put our hearts and minds into God's business?" asked Rep. Barbara Norton, a Democrat. "If we can't feel safe in church doing the business of the Lord, where else can we feel safe?"

Burns' bill was amended to require a church that allows armed parishioners to notify all members in announcements from the pulpit or in the weekly bulletin or newsletter.

Burns said the bill is needed to protect people who live in areas where crime may be a problem or where police response may be slow. "It is a church choice," he said. "We live in a different world today" where violent crimes invade church services.

"Our babies in the nursery are subject to attack while the mother is in the sanctuary worshiping," said Durell Tuberville of the Shreveport Community Church. "We want to protect our people, our sheep."

Critics, however, including Democratic state Rep. Charmaine Marchand Stiaes, said the average churchgoer is not trained in firearms or hostage negotiations like police are and could prove to be a danger. Others warned that churches could be assuming more civil liability than
they anticipate.

"You put that church in a lot of risk financially," GOP state Rep. Joe Lopinto said. "This may not be the answer that we are willing to go there."