Beebe gets guns in church bill, says he will sign


LITTLE ROCK — The Senate on Tuesday gave final passage to a measure to authorize individual churches to decide whether to allow concealed handguns inside church buildings.

Senate Bill 71, by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, passed 34-1 and goes to Gov. Mike Beebe.

Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said the governor will sign the bill into law. He also said Beebe is considering legislation that would address liability questions raised by church clergy during committee hearings on the measure.

Several pastors expressed concern that their church’s liability insurance would rise if SB 71 became law, and they asked if churches should put up signs informing the public on whether they allow concealed-handgun permit holders to bring weapons into their churches.

“We are looking at language for potentially an additional bill to address concerns that have been raised to us by the faith community,” DeCample said. “We’ve had church leaders, different denominations, raise some concerns both about liability issues and about the clarity of what particular action any church needs to take. We’re looking at potentially different language to give some piece of mine to some churches.”

King’s bill passed the Senate 28-4 late last month, and Tuesday it passed the House, 85-8, after an amendment was added to add House co-sponsors. The Senate approved the House amendment on a voice vote and then passed the amended bill.

King told reporters later that he discussed the liability concerns with the governor earlier in the day.

“We had a brief conversation,” King said. “They may run a bill dealing with liability issues and it comes back to the sign issue, and I’m just going to have to wait and see what (the governor) says.”

King sponsored a bill similar to SB 71 in 2011 that would have required churches to post signs informing the public on whether concealed handgun permit holders would be allowed to carry in church. Some lawmakers objected to the requirement. The House passed the bill but it died in a Senate committee.

King said Tuesday he sees no need for the signs and doubts that SB 71 raises liability concerns.

He said he has been provided a list of seven states that have laws regulating firearms in churches.

Louisiana allows individual churches to decide for themselves, but requires worshippers to be told whether guns are allowed. Michigan, Missouri and South Carolina allow churches to decide individually but has no requirement of notification.

Utah requires churches that allow concealed weapons inside to notify worshippers.

Virginia requires the carrier to have a “good and sufficient reason” to carry a weapon into church and Wyoming requires people with permits to have permission from the chief administrator of the place of worship before carrying a gun inside.

Rape and parental rights

Also Tuesday, the House voted 96-0 to approve House Bill 1002 by Rep. John Edwards, D-Little Rock. Under the bill, a person convicted of rape would be denied rights to visitation, custody and other contact with a child resulting from the rape.

The child would still be entitled to receive child support and an inheritance from the father. The mother could petition the court to grant parental rights to the father.

Speaking on the House floor in support of his bill, Edwards said a Missouri woman, Shauna Prewitt, was raped and chose to carry the child, and her accused rapist later petitioned the court to grant him custody. A judge denied the petition.

Edwards said the goal of the bill was that “if you’re raped and you make the decision to carry that child, you do not have to be tethered (for) a lifetime to that rapist.”

The bill goes to the Senate.