LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas – The Arkansas House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a bill allowing concealed handguns in churches, despite hearing arguments that lawmakers should put their faith in God, not guns.
The bill, which passed on a 57-42 vote and now heads to the Senate, removes churches and other houses of worship from the list of places where concealed handguns are banned. Currently, the only private entities where concealed weapons are banned are churches and bars.
The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Beverly Pyle, said she introduced the measure after a series of church shootings across the country. She said it would be up to each individual church whether to allow the concealed guns.
"It is time we changed our concealed-handgun law to allow law-abiding citizens of the state of Arkansas the right to defend themselves and others should a situation happen in one of our churches," she said.
Pyle said at least 20 states have similar laws allowing churches to decide whether to permit concealed guns.
The measure drew opposition from a pair of pastors who are also legislators.
Democratic Rep. Steven Breedlove, a minister at the Valley View Church of Christ, said allowing concealed handguns won't stop someone from opening fire inside a church.
"Ronald Reagan was completely surrounded by armed guards and he was still shot," Breedlove said. "And that is why we must put our faith in God and not put our faith in something else ... Let us keep the sanctity of churches and put our faith in God and not in guns."
Another pastor, Rep. Otis Davis, said he couldn't, in good conscience, return to his constituents in eastern Arkansas and say that he voted in favor of the bill.
Pyle had an unexpected ally in liberal Democratic Rep. Lindsley Smith, who said she supported the bill because it was an issue of separation of church and state. Smith urged lawmakers to pass the bill because churches shouldn't be treated differently from other private entities under state law, she said.
Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, said Wednesday he'd sign the bill if it made it to his desk.