An Arkansas Senate panel advanced a proposal this week to allow concealed handguns in churches, but rejected an amendment to require places of worship to carry more insurance if firearms are permitted.
A House committee also endorsed a resolution encouraging government officials to not infringe on gun rights, the first among several bills aimed at loosening firearms restrictions in the newly Republican-controlled state Legislature.
The Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed the bill by Sen. Bryan King to remove churches from the list of places where concealed handguns are prohibited. King’s proposal would leave it up to churches to decide whether to allow the weapons and who could carry them.
The committee passed the bill on a voice vote, and no votes in opposition could be heard. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure Thursday.
“Churches need to be able to decide how to handle their own security,” said King, R-Green Forest.
Past efforts to allow guns in churches have failed in the Legislature. The House passed a similar bill by King in 2011, but was rejected by a Senate committee.
An amendment proposed by Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, would have required churches allowing firearms to carry a liability insurance policy providing coverage of at least $100,000 per occurrence.
“This protects that innocent worshipper who comes to church expecting to peaceably assemble but then is in the crossfire or is injured or loses life because of the person the church engaged to protect with the concealed handgun permit,” Flowers told the panel. She later said she planned to vote against the guns-in-church bill when it comes to the Senate.
The panel rejected Flowers’ proposed amendment after King and other lawmakers said it would unfairly burden smaller churches that couldn’t afford the insurance policies.
Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, in 2009 said he would have signed a measure similar to King’s bill if it reached his desk. Beebe told reporters he supported the measure in its current form.
“I think there’s a safeguard on that one and that is that the church itself can decide yes or no on that,” he said. “I’m comfortable with that safeguard.”
The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee also endorsed a non-binding resolution urging the federal government to not infringe on the 2nd Amendment. The measure now heads to the House for a vote. The resolution does not require the governor’s signature, but Beebe said Wednesday he supports the measure.
Rep. Richard Womack, R-Arkadelphia, said he filed the resolution to show his constituents that he hears their concerns about federal proposals to tighten regulations on firearms.
“They are scared to death that the federal government is going to come in and try to confiscate weapons,” Womack told reporters after the resolution passed. “The vast majority of my contacts just want things left alone, no change whatsoever.”
Womack conceded that he did not think the federal government would seek to confiscate weapons “anytime soon.”
A separate measure is pending before a House panel that would allow faculty and staff at universities and colleges to carry a concealed handgun on campus. Beebe told reporters he has more concerns about that legislation.
“You need to get input from the college administrators and personnel in the colleges before you come to any final conclusion one way or another, but the feedback I’d had from college officials was generally negative about that,” Beebe said.
Associated Press Writer Michael Stratford contributed to this report.
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