Mississippi Bill Would Let Churches Create Armed Security Squads

"The reality is that we’re a soft target."

What would Jesus pack?

The Mississippi Senate just passed a bill that would allow churches to train members to carry guns and act as security guards during religious services -- and exempt them from legal action if they use their weapons.

"This will allow a church to have a sergeant-at-arms to protect the church body, just like we have (in the Legislature)," Sean Tindell, a Republican state senator, was quoted as saying by the Clarion-Ledger.

Tindell pointed to last year's massacre at a church in Charleston, South Carolina as an example of why churches need an armed guard.

Others said the Mississippi Church Protection Act crossed a line, especially since it does more than allow churches to have armed guards. It also legalizes concealed carry in a holster without a permit throughout the state -- so-called "constitutional carry" -- and prohibits state officials from enforcing any federal gun regulation not passed by Congress.

That last part was presumably aimed at President Barack Obama's proposed executive orders to increase background checks, among others.

"We don't need to pimp out the church for political purposes," said state senator Hillman Frazier, according to WDAM. "If you want to pass laws to liberalize gun laws, do that. But don't use the church to do that."

Frazier, a Democrat, held a sword as he spoke, and told a Biblical story of Jesus healing the servant of a high priest whose ear was cut off by one of the disciples, the news station reported.

The law would require churches or other places of worship to provide training for the armed member or members. That person would then be immune from civil prosecution when using the weapon in church "if the action in question occurs during the reasonable exercise of and within the course and scope of the member's official duties as a member of the security program for the church or place of worship."

Some church leaders welcomed the bill.

"The reality is that we’re a soft target,” Larry Dean, pastor of the Bridgetown Baptist Church in Nesbit, Mississippi, told The Daily Beast. "Anyone can carry a weapon at any time and do whatever evil they are going to do. Having a gun is one way to stop or restrain them."

The Mississippi Police Chiefs Association (MPCA) blasted the bill, particularly the part that eliminated the need to obtain permits for concealed carry.

"By effectively dismantling Mississippi’s licensing system, this bill would block law enforcement who stop an armed suspect from confirming that he isn’t a violent criminal, severely mentally ill or otherwise dangerous," Ken Winter, executive director of the MPCA, told the Clarion-Ledger last month. "This bill would put law enforcement officers and all Mississippians directly in harm’s way."

In addition, the Secular Coalition for America named it "the worst bill in America."

"This legislation would put 'soldiers of God' above the law, allowing them to act as judge, jury and executioner," executive director Larry T. Decker said in a statement.

He added:

"Religious institutions are already exempt from taxation, financial transparency and many civil rights laws. The Mississippi Church Protection Act would constitute an unprecedented and dangerous next step. Belonging to a church should not afford anyone the same rights and protections as law enforcement. This legislation emboldens extremists by creating a legal means for radical preachers to enlist their congregants into 'God’s army.'"

The bill now goes to Gov. Phil Bryant (R).

(h/t Raw Story)

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