JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Houses of worship could designate members to undergo firearms training and carry guns to protect the congregation under a bill advancing at the Mississippi Capitol.
The House voted 86-32 Wednesday to pass House Bill 786, known as the Mississippi Church Protection Act. The proposal moves to the Senate for more work.
House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, is an attorney and minister of a small Baptist church. He said he filed the bill in response to the church slayings last summer in Charleston, South Carolina.
"A number of congregations ... don't have the resources to hire professional security," said Gipson, whose rural church has about 100 members.
He said the proposal would provide the same sort of immunity from prosecution that state law has given for several years to a person using a gun to defend a home, vehicle or business, if threatened.
Some House members questioned whether the proposal could create safety hazards, or whether some houses of worship could come under law enforcement scrutiny for having armed members.
"What if a mosque full of Muslims decides to have weapons inside of their church?" asked Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville. "Could they be considered terrorists?"
Hines also needled Gipson: "Are you carrying when you stand in the pulpit?"
When Gipson hesitated, Hines pushed for a yes or no answer.
Gipson replied: "There have been occasions when I have, yes."
Before the legislative session started, Gipson said one current state law seems to generally prohibit carrying guns in churches, but another allows people with enhanced concealed-carry permits to bring guns there. The enhanced concealed-carry permit requires a person to take gun safety classes. Gipson said his proposal is designed to eliminate the conflict in the two current laws.
Online: House Bill 786 (http://bit.ly/1TnPAWO ).
Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .