By Riley Manning
TUPELO – Thanks to a bill moving through the Legislature last week, more Mississippi church members may be packing heat in the pews.
House Bill 786, the Mississippi Church Protection Act was passed by the House 86-32, and will proceed to the Senate for more work.
The proposal provides the same degree of immunity from prosecution that state laws give to a person using a gun to defend their home, vehicle or business if threatened. House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, said he said his bill was inspired by the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, last summer.
Gipson, who is also an attorney and pastor of a 100-member Baptist church, noted many rural congregations don’t have the resources to hire professional security.
In addition, current state laws on guns in churches are vague and contradictory, Gipson claims, and his bill seeks to eliminate conflicting messages in the law.
For ministers in Northeast Mississippi, the passing of the bill came as no surprise.
“We’ve been waiting on that to come down for a while,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Gladney, pastor of Red Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Tupelo. “In the South, people are so gun-friendly.”
Gladney said his church has considered posting signs that read “no weapons” on the church’s entrances, but there’s nothing to stop someone from having a firearm in their car.
“We have our deacons monitor the church during the service,” Gladney said. “They don’t carry guns, but we do have cameras and things. Hopefully that’s enough.”
The Rev. Jimmy Criddle, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Amory, echoed Gladney’s sentiment about the South.
“If pastors think members aren’t already carrying weapons, they’re being naive,” he said, “Some denominations, like the Mennonites, are strict pacifists, but the mainline churches aren’t, really.”
Criddle said a member of his congregation is a deputy who wears his firearm during services, and he prefers a less-is-more approach when it comes to guns on Sunday. He pointed to the Mississippi law passed last summer that allows firearms to be carried in a purse or briefcase with no concealed carry permit.
“If you have an active shooter and everyone pulls their gun out, that might create a worse situation,” he said. “Maybe it’s better to have a few trained people to take on that responsibility. But I don’t think we’ll see any churches take on an anti-gun stance.”