Arkansas Senate Approves Guns in Church Bill

LITTLE ROCK - The Arkansas Senate voted Monday to allow concealed handguns in churches and other places of worship, rejecting complaints from a handful of Democratic lawmakers that it undermines the idea of the institutions being sanctuaries from violence.

By a 28-4 vote, the Republican-controlled Senate approved the legislation that would leave it up to individual places of worship to decide whether to allow concealed handguns inside. Churches are currently listed as places where concealed handguns are prohibited.

The proposal is among several aimed at loosening the state's firearms restrictions, including a bill filed Monday that would keep secret the list of Arkansas residents permitted to carry concealed handguns.

Sen. Bryan King, the sponsor of the guns in church bill, said the measure would help rural churches far from police or law enforcement that can't afford to hire security.

"This just gives each church the ability to handle their own security," King, R-Green Forest, told senators before the vote.

Of the 49 states that allow concealed handguns, Arkansas is among 10 that specifically prohibit them from churches, according to the National Rifle Association. Past efforts to allow guns in churches have failed in the Legislature, but gun rights advocates believe they're poised to change that now that Republicans are in control.

Eight Democrats voted for the measure in the Senate. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe has indicated he'll likely sign the measure into law should it reach his desk.

The proposal faces opposition from some church leaders, including the Episcopal bishop of Arkansas and the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock, who say that churches are no place for weapons. Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, echoed that complaint Monday as she urged lawmakers to vote against King's proposal.

"My Lord's house is a house of prayer, not one with guns," Chesterfield said.

King said he planned to bring his proposal before the House Judiciary Committee later this week. House Speaker Davy Carter told reporters he supports the legislation and expects it will pass the House, where Republicans hold 51 of 100 seats.

"The question that the General Assembly has in front of it is: Should they have the right to make that decision for themselves?" Carter, R-Cabot, said. "I think the answer to that is yes, and I think the bill will pass the House."

The House also unanimously approved Monday a non-binding resolution that urges the federal government and other policymakers not to limit Second Amendment rights.

Another proposal filed Monday would keep secret the list of Arkansans licensed to carry concealed handguns. Sen. Bruce Holland, R-Greenwood, said he filed it in response to a New York newspaper that published the names and addresses of permit holders last year after the Connecticut school massacre.

Under a 2009 law, Arkansas only releases the names and ZIP codes of concealed carry permit holders. The law was the result of a compromise over a similar proposal that year to keep the entire list secret.

"I think that's a pretty private issue," Holland said. "Nobody needs to know where the guns are and who has guns in their home, make those people a target of burglaries or anything else."

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, broadcast or distributed.)