State senator, area pastors see law allowing guns in churches as loaded with uncertainty

“Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” was a popular World War II song aimed at rallying the spirit of Americans under strains of continued combat. It doesn’t appear that the tune will be experiencing a revival as a church musical number any time soon, at least in Jefferson County.

State Sen. Stephanie Flowers, a Pine Bluff Democrat, opposed a recently enacted state law allowing concealed-carry permit holders to take their firearms into consenting churches. And four area ministers also voiced concerns with the measure.

Stephen Harrison, an associate pastor at Family Life Church of White Hall, said he supports Second Amendment rights, but he’s not sure of the “practicality” of the Church Protection Act. Saying he believes government “is too big,” he’s relieved that the state isn’t actually dictating to the church but rather allowing individual churches to determine whether to allow guns. Churches that take no action on the question will remain off-limits to guns.

“It could be a potential liability issue,” said Harrison, who added that Family Life’s administration hasn’t yet made a decision on who — if anyone — except professionally trained law enforcement officers might be allowed to take their weapons onto or into church property.

Flowers said she opposed the notion because of liability concerns. While the bill was still being discussed in the Senate, she proposed an amendment to require a minimum of $100,000 liability insurance policy “to at least peel away the charitable immunity churches are allowed.”

Flowers added that “immunity demands higher standards” while “adoption of lower standards demands liability.”

Walter Van Zandt Windsor, pastor of Trinity Episcopal Church in Pine Bluff, believes the law “sends a terrible message” in “emphasizing” that guns be brought into churches “almost as if (the state) encouraged it.” He thinks the idea violates the church’s historical role as “a place of peace with no weapons, no war and no tragedy.”

“It’s an awful mix of church and state,” Windsor said of the law.

New Jerusalem Baptist Church of Pine Bluff Pastor Frank Harris Jr. agrees with Windsor and Harrison. Harris said the thought of guns in church “cancels out” a sense of “safety that some people feel in worship services.”

Harris said he doesn’t foresee his church allowing anyone other than “police officers or someone like that” to “bring guns into our church.” He rates the “chance of an accident” being too high for comfort even “with trained gun handlers,” and said he’s not prepared to allow a concealed-carry permit to interfere with the “sacredness” of his church.

Glenn Barnes Sr., pastor of Pine Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Pine Bluff, said he “would not support” the concept of “random people” bringing weapons into his church.

“Professional security and police officers can be more trusted,” Barnes said. “I don’t think just having a permit means that a person can always be recognized as being dependable with a gun.”