In Mississippi, a bill has been passed by the Republican-held Senate which would allow churches to hire and train their own security forces. These churchgoers would be able to carry concealed weapons without a permit. The churches can choose and train their own ‘army of God’ to protect their church. The bill would also block any federal regulation or executive orders. Oh, and the churches don’t have to let attendees know that there is an armed contingent among them.
Proving that the Mississippi government is one of the most reactionary and antiquated in the country, House Bill 786 would allow churches to create mercenary squads with no oversight at all. What could possibly go wrong?
Supporters of The Mississippi Church Protection Act pointed to the mass shooting at the Emanuel Church in South Carolina last June as the impetus for it. One lawmaker said that he “wished… this bill wouldn’t be necessary.” Wish granted. This bill is not necessary. And if you think it is, that says a lot more about you than it does about the world.
Mississippi Lt. Governor Tate Reeves said, in a statement:
Unfortunately, our nation has seen tragic incidents carried out in places of worship. Mississippians should be able to attend church knowing they have security measures in place to protect them from anyone trying to do them harm.
There are, certainly, incidents of violence at churches. It’s hard to pin down a number, though. Right-wing sites puff up the figures to make it sound like churches are the victims of more violence than other places people congregate. One source of statistics, whom several others cite, is Carl Chinn. Chinn was held hostage by an armed man at the Focus on the Family ministry in Colorado a couple of decades ago. He has since served as a consultant for church security. Of course, he makes money when he consults on the subject (also has a book), so I’d take his numbers with a grain of salt.
There was some push-back by Democrats in the Mississippi Senate. Sen. Hillman Frazier waved a sword and quoted scripture, exhorting his fellow senators not to “pimp the church for political purposes.” Sen. Hob Bryan also argued against the bill, addressing Sen. Sean Tindell, who backed the measure :
Where did you go to law school? Are they telling people there that the Mississippi constitution trumps federal law? … You may have been wrong about things before, but you’ve never been more wrong than this. This is like arguing whether the freezing point of water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit. This is embarrassing, hopeless.
And the executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, Larry T. Decker, called it the “worst state bill in the U.S., adding:”
This legislation would put ‘soldiers of God’ above the law, allowing them to act as judge, jury, and executioner. 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 bill, passed by the Mississippi House and sent to the Senate for debate, will be sent back down to the House for passage. It is going to be a test case for states to challenge the Supremacy Clause on gun laws. For people who claim to love the Constitution, Republicans are quick to stomp on it when it suits them. And it suits them when it comes to gun laws.
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