Mississippi churches concerned about the possibility of an active shooter situation can now designate members to carry concealed firearms into services, Yahoo News reports.
As part of Mississippi’s new constitutional carry bill, the Church Protection Act allows church members to undergo firearms training and provide armed protection for their congregations. The bill also provides legal protection for those members the church designates to carry firearms into services.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Andy Gipson, said the act is designed to allow small congregations a means of protection if they cannot afford to hire security guards. Gipson believes the bill is necessary in light of the massacre of nine parishioners during a Bible study last year in Charleston, South Carolina.
The bill was met with mixed reactions from Mississippi congregations, according to the Yahoo report.
Some pastors, like Greater Bethlehem Temple’s Ervin Ricks, lead congregations whose members are sensitive to inner-city gun violence. Pastor Ricks says he finds bullets lodged in the walls of his church about nine times a year, and many of his congregation have lost family members to gun wounds inflicted by criminals.
So, while Pastor Ricks’s church does not oppose gun ownership and many attendees hunt and shoot for sport, they leave security to surveillance cameras and off-duty police officers.
Unfortunately, not all churches can afford the same kind of protections as Ricks’s 1200-member congregation. Representative Gipson, for example, pastors an 80-member church in the Mississippi countryside 40 minutes southeast of Jackson. His is the kind of church the bill aims to protect.
“Melissa Sullivan, a member of Gipson’s Gum Springs Baptist Church, was carrying a gun during service one Sunday in late March,” according to the Yahoo report. “Most of the congregation carries guns most of the time, including the women, she said. She said she feels safe but isn’t naive enough to believe there isn’t a threat.”
“The bad guys are gonna have a way to get their point across,” she concluded. “We have to have a right to defend our family.”
Other pastors expressed disappointment that the law needed to be passed at all.
“It’s a sad day in America when we even have to think about taking a firearm to church to protect the people there,” said the Rev. Otis Moore, of Jackson First Church, according to WAPT News.
Despite his hesitation, Moore said he does support the new law.
Only two states — Georgia and North Dakota — prohibit all guns from places of worship, said Taylor Maxwell, a spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates for gun control laws. Eight states prohibit concealed carry permit holders from carrying guns into places of worship; other states leave it up to the place of worship.