When Senate Bill 71 was signed into law as Act 67 on Feb. 11, it had passed out of the Arkansas Senate 34-1 and the Arkansas House of Representatives 85-8, with seven members not voting, close to a legislative perfecta, making it legal for church congregations in Arkansas to allow concealed carry gun permit owners to pack heat in a church building.
First of a series. When Senate Bill 71 was signed into law as Act 67 on Feb. 11, it had passed out of the Arkansas Senate 34-1 and the Arkansas House of Representatives 85-8, with seven members not voting, close to a legislative perfecta, making it legal for church congregations in Arkansas to allow concealed carry gun permit owners to pack heat in a church building. The law is simply an amendment of existing law under Arkansas Code Section 5-73-306(16) which had previously prohibited carrying a concealed handgun in a church or other place of worship. The one paragraph change adds language to include, “However, this subchapter does not preclude a church or other place of worship from determining who may carry a concealed handgun into the church or other place of worship...” The measure also provides for an emergency clause which references the Second Amendment to the U. S. Constitution regarding the right to bear arms, and the necessity of the law “because a person should be allowed to carry a firearm in a church that permits the carrying of a firearm for personal security.” Matt DeCample, spokesman for Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, said in a telephone interview that Beebe signed the legislation with reservations. “He actually preferred another bill that was more definitive,” DeCample said. All three legislators representing Hempstead County voted for the measure, noting almost universally that it was a law of choice for the citizens of Arkansas. “I am a supporter of the Second Amendment and our right to bear arms,” State Senator Larry Teague, D-Nashville, dean of the Southwest Arkansas legislators, said. “The bill is permissive allowing the church to decide who may carry a concealed handgun into the church.” Sen. Teague said he received negative and positive feedback on the proposal. “I had calls from several pastors, some requesting the ability to decide and some asking me not to support the bill,” he said. “I did not have many calls from churches within my district.” Constituent response was about the same, Teague said. “I did receive a number of e-mails and some calls from constituents on the issue, both for and against,” he said. Teague said that he was not a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the primary committee considering the bill before it passed out to the Senate, so he was not aware of the debate, or lack thereof, on the bill. State Senator Jim Hickey, R-Texarkana, is a freshman senator, and was a co-sponsor of the bill. Hickey framed his support, as well, in terms of gun ownership. “The large majority of the constituency in this state wants to make sure their Second Amendment rights and freedoms are protected,” Sen. Hickey said. He said the issue was one of self-defense. “These citizens want to be able to protect themselves and their families from harm should the need arise,” Hickey said. “We currently have a procedure in place through our concealed carry permitting process that allows citizens this option. This bill extends that protection based upon the desires and wishes of each church.” Hickey, as well, does not sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and did not hear debate on the bill. In the Arkansas House, State Representative Brent Talley, D-McCaskill, also a freshman, voted in favor of the bill. Rep. Talley characterized his support in terms of the choice the law allowed. “I supported SB71, the Church Protection Act of 2013, which will allow individuals with a valid concealed carry permit to carry a concealed weapon inside a church,” he said. “I liked that this bill allows individual churches the opportunity to set their own policy.” State Senator Bryan King, of Green Forest, was primary sponsor of the measure. Sen. King, a Republican, is a freshman in the Senate, but has served three terms in the Arkansas House. He is also the primary sponsor of controversial legislation concerning requiring voters to produce identification prior to voting in elections in Arkansas.