Mississippi governor signs law authorizing guns in churches

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill into law Friday that allows specially trained churchgoers to carry concealed firearms to enhance security at places of worship.

The Mississippi Church Protection Act is intended to enable churches to establish a “security program,” by designating members to undergo firearms training and carry guns into church buildings, said the bill’s author, Republican State Rep. Andy Gipson.

The law also allows concealed carry without a license in a “purse, handbag, satchel, other similar bag or briefcase or fully enclosed case.” Under this law, holsters also are allowed.

Gipson has said House Bill 786 was a direct response to the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting when white gunman Dylann Roof opened fire last year in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, killing nine black parishioners.

Gipson said his proposal gives churches an option to defend themselves against similar attacks, especially when many “smaller churches can’t afford to hire security.”

“I wish we lived in a world where this bill wouldn’t be necessary,” Gipson said.

On Twitter, the governor posted a video of him signing the bill into law. “Churches deserve protection from those who would harm worshippers. That’s why I signed HB 786,” he said.

Lorenzo Neal, pastor of New Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Mississippi’s capital Jackson and an outspoken critic of the measure, said he thought the bill would make his congregation feel less secure.

“I actually believe it may create a greater sense of anxiety because now people are unaware who may be carrying a weapon,” he told NPR. “And the church is a place where people are expected to come and … not have to worry about their safety per se.”

The Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police also opposed the bill, saying it made it easier for anyone to carry a concealed handgun in public, including violent criminals and mentally ill people.

“By effectively dismantling Mississippi’s licensing system, this bill would block law enforcement who stop an armed suspect from confirming that he isn’t a violent criminal, severely mentally ill, or otherwise dangerous,” said Ken Winter, executive director of the association. “This bill would put law enforcement officers and all Mississippians directly in harm’s way.”

The National Rifle Association praised the bill’s signing. “Gov. Bryant stood strong for the Second Amendment by signing this significant bill, in spite of billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s attempts to spread lies about it,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action. “It’s a great day for law-abiding gun owners in Mississippi. This will allow them to carry firearms ​for personal protection in the manner that best suits their needs.”