Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed HB 786, the Mississippi Church Protection Act, on April 15, 2016, a law already a topic of controversy much like that of the “religious freedom” law in the state, signed by Gov. Bryant on April 5, 2016.
Mississippi Church Protection Act
The new law provides that designated people can carry guns into church. Those designated must undergo firearm training and meet permitting requirements to be able to provide security to individual churches. Another portion of the law allows the state’s residents who are eligible to own a gun to carry a holstered weapon without a permit.
The Mississippi legislature crafted and passed the bill in response to concerns about the safety of congregants following a June 2015 incident in Charleston, South Carolina where nine members of a Bible study group, meeting at a church, were victims of a gunman. Mississippi Rep. Andy Gipson, who is also a Baptist pastor, authored the bill. The measure had the support of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
A member of Gipson’s 80-person congregation, Melissa Sullivan, revealed to the Associated Press that she sometimes carries a gun to church services, a practice she related that most of the congregation follows. While Sullivan relates feeling safe in church, but not naive enough to think there is no threat of violence, saying, “The bad guys are gonna have a way to get their point across,” she said. “We have to have a right to defend our families.”
Gun control advocates are concerned about the law’s allowance of gun owners to carry a concealed weapon without first having to obtain a permit to do so. The Mississippi Association of Police Chiefs has voiced opposition to this, saying that it dismantles the licensing system currently in place and will make it more difficult for law enforcement to determine whether someone who is carrying a concealed weapon isn’t a violent criminal.
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