There are two distinct reactions to gun violence. One is to tighten gun regulations in an effort to get guns off the street. The other is to arm more people so they can kill would-be attackers. The Charleston, South Carolina, shooting at a church last year has provided the Mississippi legislature with a pretext to do the latter.
This week the Mississippi legislature passed the “Mississippi Church Protection Act” (HB 786) that would allow churches to train armed members to act as security guards, and protect them from civil action if they use their weapons and adds an additional defense against criminal prosecution.
According to Republican state senator Sean Tindell, speaking to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, the idea is to “allow a church to have a sergeant-at-arms to protect the church body.”
The bill would require houses of worship to provide training in how to use weapons and would give the trained members immunity from civil liability if they used the weapon “during the reasonable exercise of and within the course and scope of the member’s official duties as a member of the security program for the church or place of worship.”
The Secular Coalition for America has called it “the worst bill in America” because, according to executive director Larry T. Decker, it “would put ‘soldiers of God’ above the law, allowing them to act as judge, jury and executioner.”
The Coalition warns that the bill “effectively would allow churches to empower designated members of their congregation as part of a security team with a ‘shoot to kill’ authority equivalent to a police officer but with less government oversight. … If this legislation becomes law, it will embolden extremists by creating a legal means for radical preachers to enlist their congregants into ‘God’s army.'”
The bill also includes language that would attempt to prohibit Mississippi government officials from enforcing any federal regulations or executive orders that are believed to violate the state constitution which itself raises interesting Supremacy Clause issues.
The bill passed the Senate 36-14 and was returned to the House for a vote because a minor amendment had been made. Assuming it passes, the bill will be sent to the governor for signature.
There is a “persecution mentality” among some religious communities, and it’s not uncommon to find people who harbor private Rambo fantasies, or see themselves in a role of heroes defending their churches against hordes of enemy invaders like Rick and his team in “The Walking Dead” (pictured).
In the wake of the December terrorist attacks in Redlands, California, Jerry Falwell, Jr., President of Liberty University, instituted rules allowing students to be armed to protect themselves against terrorists. There’s a strong incentive to weaponize Christianity as a counterbalance to religious terrorism and coupled with the loss of nuance and increasing recklessness in American political dialogue, the pressure is being built up to a prophetic breaking point.
Concealed carry rights already exist and churches that need security can certainly hire professional security teams if necessary. HB 786 strikes the issue at a different angle by appealing to paranoia and possibly adventurous side of potential holy warriors who are already on the fringe of society and could now act under cover of both legal right and religion to do some very dangerous things.
You can read and follow the progress of Mississippi HB 786 here..