A bill that would allow church-goers to carry a concealed firearm into a place of worship is about to become law. Some congregations believe the “Mississippi Church Protection Act" would measure will bolster security. Others worry it could bring more anxiety.
Gum Springs Baptist Church looks a lot like many rural churches in Mississippi. It’s a long, skinny building with a large white steeple with a well-kept cemetery out back. Last Sunday the parking lot was full. Walk closer to the doors, and you can hear the hymns swell.
The predominately white congregation at Gum Springs is the home of Pastor Andy Gipson. He’s the Republican state Representative that introduced the “Mississippi Church Protection Act.”
Under the bill, places of worship could designate members to undergo firearms training and carry guns during religious ceremonies. In addition, all worshipers would have the right to carry a holstered-concealed weapon without a permit.
After the service, Gipson says these are challenging times, and church-goers need to protect themselves.
“As I introduced it, I thought about our congregation. It thought about our children here and infants. Unfortunately, I wish we didn’t have to think about this, but we do have to think about it.”
Gipson says his congregation has had experience with unwelcomed visitors entering the church.
“We were having service and someone walked in, came in the back door right there, walked behind the pulpit where I was, made a bunch of noise and they went out the other side, and they never came back. That happened before the church shooting, but that’s one of the things that got me thinking about things like cameras and security team and people who are trained to know how to deal with situations.”
What Gipson doesn’t mention, is that the bill would also have the effect of enabling people to carry guns in holsters without a concealed weapons permit. It’s an expansion of last year’s state law that allowed people to carry guns in purses or briefcases without a permit.
Melissa Sullivan is a member of Gipson’s church.
“Do you currently feel uncomfortable or unsafe here at church?”
“No, not at all.”
“I do not.”
Do you carry a gun?
“Yes, I do.”
“Are you carrying one right now?”
“I am. I feel safer knowing that if there should be a threat come on my territory, that I know how to take care of that."
About 30 minutes north of Gum Springs Baptist Church is New Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Mississippi’s Capital City of Jackson.
Here, the “Gun’s in Church Bill” is much less popular with the predominately black congregation. Pastor Lorenzo Neal has spoken against the measure on several occasions. He says the bringing guns into the sanctuary will not make anyone safer.
“I actually believe it may create a greater sense of anxiety because no people are unaware who may be carrying a weapon,” says Neal. “The church is a place where people are expected to come in fellowship and love and not have to worry about their safety per se.”
Church-member Susie Reynolds says she puts her safety in God’s hands.
“We know what happened in South Carolina, but that can happen anywhere,” says Reynolds. “As Christians, we believe that once we come here, this is our refuge from everything. So if you bring guns in here, then you’re bringing in something that is not totally of God.”
The Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police oppose the concealed carry provision of the measure. Republican Governor Phil Bryant is widely-expected to sign the Mississippi Church Protection Act into law soon.