Among a random sampling of ministers here, it appears that church congregations in Hope have given little consideration to the impact of the signing into law of Act 67, which allows church congregations to permit persons with concealed carry gun permits in Arkansas to possess a handgun on church premises.
Among a random sampling of ministers here, it appears that church congregations in Hope have given little consideration to the impact of the signing into law of Act 67, which allows church congregations to permit persons with concealed carry gun permits in Arkansas to possess a handgun on church premises. Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe signed the measure into law on Feb. 11. The enabling legislation, Senate Bill 71, had been unanimously supported by Southwest Arkansas legislators. But, there are mixed feelings among ministers locally regarding the new law, although none of the church congregations represented by the ministers in a random sampling have acted on the measure. Among all five minsters, they have concerns about the concept itself, yet, they seem to agree as to the implications where personal rights are involved. “As a minister, I believe that overall it's not a very wise policy to have people carrying guns into a church who are not fully trained in their use,” Mark Fischer, minister at First Baptist Church in Hope, noted. As to Fischer's congregation, “We're still examining the issue and how it will pertain to us.” He said he has no overall sense of the congregation's understanding or opinions on the issue. But, Fischer does think that if concealed carry of firearms is allowed at First Baptist, “Most likely, it would apply to people who are trained law enforcement.” That is a common theme among local ministers. Cliff Johnson, minister at Garrett Memorial Baptist Church said a number of Arkansas State Police troopers attend services at his congregation. “We kind of kicked it around,” Johnson said. “I'm in talks with our deacon body about it.” He said that Garrett Memorial maintains a school campus on its property, and that presents another facet to the need for security. “We're in a different situation because we have a school; and, we haven't made a decision regarding how that would apply,” Johnson said. He said instances of robberies at churches in Little Rock and other places in the past make the issue realistic. “Especially with our being located on Interstate 30; there is all kinds of traffic, and it would be foolish to say nothing could ever happen here,” Johnson said. First United Methodist Church Pastor Steve Johnson said there has not been enough discussion among his congregation's members to arrive at a consensus. “We just had little discussions, but no decision has been made,” Johnson said. “One of my big concerns is if you allow it and don't have a designated individual who has some training. If we decided to do it, and that is a big IF, we would likely designate someone to do it; and, not allow just anyone to carry one.” Like other church congregations in Hope, First Assembly of God has members who are law enforcement officers, Pastor Chris Bradley explained. “I can see where some of the older members would see it as not appropriate, but the younger generation might not see it as unusual,” Bradley said. But, he notes that the purpose of a church campus should be considered. “From a spiritual perspective, I'd expect us to be the safest place in town,” Bradley said. No discussions of the issue have developed at First Christian Church, where Les Patterson is the minister. “I don't think it would be a problem in Hope,” Patterson said. “I don't have a problem with it personally, but I can't speak for the church. I don't think we have anybody in our church who has a concealed carry permit.”