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Gun Control Advocates Decry Louisiana's New Law Allowing Churchgoers to Pack Heat

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In this June 27, 2010 photo, churchgoers sing during a service at Barataria Baptist Church in Lafitte, La.(AP)

Gun control supporters are up in arms over Louisiana's new law allowing churchgoers to pack heat along with their Bibles.

Gov. Bobby Jindal gave his blessing this week to churches, synagogues and mosques to allow concealed handguns on their premises, overturning a state ban.

"The governor's position on the Second Amendment is not new," Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin said in a written statement to FoxNews.com. "He sides with the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners."

Supporters of the measure say it can be a deterrent against criminal activity in church and will give an option to ministers and pastors to incorporate concealed handguns into their security plans.

Opponents argue it's inappropriate to have concealed handguns in church.

Places of worship that invite concealed guns will have to inform their members of the decision and anyone wishing to carry one will have to take an extra eight hours of tactical training each year – a requirement that doesn't mollify gun opponents.

"The question Louisiana residents need to be asking themselves is: Is someone who takes a single eight-hour class fit to defend themselves should a crisis situation arise in the church?," said Ladd Everitt, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. "We would say no."

Everitt said violent crimes should be handled by police officers, who have extensive training with firearms. At a minimum, he added, the law should demand more extensive requirements of churchgoers.

"There are enough people with that level of training, that level of accountability," he said. "We are seeing the NRA moving us to vigilante-type justice with little accountability."

Jindal signed the bill by Republican Rep. Henry Burns on Tuesday. The new law, which takes effect August 15, does not apply to churches on school property.

Louisiana becomes one of the few states allowing concealed guns in places of worship, gun control advocates said. Similar legislation failed in Kansas, Mississippi and Ohio, according to the Legal Community Against Violence, a public interest law center based in San Francisco.

Earlier this year, Georgia passed a law that allows churchgoers to carry concealed weapons in the parking lots of churches.

"Legal Community Against Violence believes that loaded firearms have no place in a house of worship," Laura Cutilletta, a senior staff attorney with the group said in a written statement to FoxNews.com. "Important research confirms the common sense conclusion that more guns create more opportunity for injury and death. Houses of worship should be places where families and others can worship in peace without worry that their safety will be jeopardized by the accidental, or intentional, use of a gun."

Louisiana Rep. Mickey James Guillory, who voted against the measure under pressure from his constituents when it came before his criminal justice panel, said he now supports the law because places of worship ultimately choose.

"It doesn't give carte blanche to people to bring a gun to church," he told FoxNews.com. "If it's regulated in that fashion, where the pastor or the governing board of the church knows who the assigned people are, that's ok."

He added that churchgoers who are not satisfied with that restriction "can go to another church."

"If that's how they feel, that's why we have so many denominations," he said. "That's why you have choice of religion."

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said it isn't taking a position on Louisiana's gun law because it doesn't force churches to allow guns.

"The main thing is churches have been doing the right thing in banning guns," said Daniel Vice, a senior attorney with the organization. "When the Bible says blessed are the peacemakers, it's not referring to the Colt .45."

Vice noted that Louisiana has the highest rate of death by gunfire in the country, nearly double the national rate. The state's gun death rate is 19.87 per 100,000, according to an analysis by the Violence Policy Center of 2006 data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. The national gun death rate is 10 per 100,000.

"Anytime you allow guns into public places, it increases the risk of shootings," Vice said. "That's why we think churches have done the right thing" by banning them.