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A violent hall pass

opinion by Scott Shackelford
Scott Shackelford is a former editorial page editor for a Northwest Arkansas newspaper. He lives in Fayetteville.

Editor's note: Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.

Whether we should allow guns into our places of worship is as much a test of the faith and goodwill we put into our communities as it is how far each of us is willing to go to protect our friends, family and self from the worrisome thought that danger might someday inhibit even God’s home on earth.

In any case, the time to form an opinion is now. On Jan. 23, the Arkansas Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously backed legislation that would make concealed weapons legal in Natural State churches. Passage may already be assured.

Senate Bill 71, referred to as the Church Protection Act of 2013, would give churches the right to decide whether guns would or would not be allowed on church property. Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, who is sponsoring the legislation, believes his proposal makes sense, as churches have been the victim of random acts of violence before. Besides, he argues, in Arkansas many churches are of the rural variety, and as such several miles away from the nearest police station.

Arkansas legislators have previously tried – including King, in 2011 – and failed to get similar legislation on the books. In the past, Democratic legislators have seemed to stand in the way of such ideas, but with Republican majorities in both state houses, it appears King’s wish is in good standing. Even Gov. Mike Beebe has already signaled his comfort with the idea and, although officially neutral, he would probably sign the bill into law should it reach his desk.

But the question remains: Is that such a good thing?

Obviously conservatives, from King to the National Rifle Association, would be fast to offer a first and a second, and not just because this proposal means to expand Second Amendment freedoms in Arkansas – although that is a big part of the reason this legislation is likely to win approval.

Detractors owe it to themselves to hit the pause button long enough to study where conservative voices are coming from. Republicans abhor the taking of innocent life via gun violence just as much as Democrats (as if such a thought actually needs saying) and they find the thought of watching a son or daughter, wife or husband, be shot and die beside them – while at church, no less – about as terrible a thought as could be. And since crazy people with guns seem to be in vogue these days, the idea of arming oneself as a last means of defense might seem the only alternative.

So, I get it.

I get that people are scared and reacting in ways rational (and irrational) to protect their lives and liberty from danger. Even though the chances of such a tragedy being visited upon your family during worship services is a statistical abstraction, I get human nature. I understand the notion that one need never apologize for taking a calculated risk, even if said risk is by its very nature more likely to bring about some type of injury or accident than the alternative reality, the one where parishioners choose to leave their dangerous firearms out of the picture.

And what about that alternative reality – the one where firearms are supposed to be off-limits in our schools and our houses of worship? Are we all entirely ready and willing to give up on the notion that our Second Amendment, though important, should not stretch so far that it blots out those human scenes when humanity – to be in touch with their own humanity – are supposed to shed themselves of their fears and concerns and join hands with their community for a few minutes of shared worship?

Carrying a gun into any public place is a way of admitting that you don’t trust the community you live in very much. It suggests that, after careful consideration, you would prefer to spend time in God’s House by putting your faith in a handgun – not the Almighty, and certainly not in the suspicious-looking person a few pews over.

Second Amendment supporters might counter that people have a right to protect themselves. Arkansas liberals might retort by saying keeping guns out of public places – like the legislation President Obama will soon be proposing would help accomplish – is what we should be debating.

The GOP might counter that gun ownership is sacred. The left might respond by saying an individual’s right to walk into a movie theater, or a schoolhouse, or a church without worrying about gun violence is another important and inalienable right, and that answering guns with more guns is to perpetuate a situation that, in a country already overflowing with guns, is but an example of extreme irrationality.

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Are we really protecting our churches from harm if we fill them up with concealed firearms? In a nation populated with more than 300 million firearms, is an expansion of gun rights really the best answer the state of Arkansas can develop? Or is threatening the unforeseen with a bullet the limit of any legislative remedy in our home state? This, while in Washington D.C. the White House talks of limiting access to assault weapons and the large magazine clips capable of destroying dozens of lives in mere seconds. Is one side entirely correct and the other thoroughly wrong? Is it possible to reach even a smattering of a solution in a nation as gun-crazy as ours?

It seems our churches will soon be filled with folks carry concealed weapons. The person doing the carrying may well feel safe and secure with such a stealth physical reassurance, but I fear such faith will elude a majority of us. Our nation’s violent nature requires difficult remedies.

This is not a peaceful remedy. It is a hall pass for more violence.

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Comments

Allow Guns for Protection?

Current law allows restaurant owners and businesses to decide whether legal guns are allowed in their building. Why shouldn't church leaders be allowed the same freedom to decide if they want some protection inside their 4 walls? When did The City Wire turn so far left? Are they trying to emulate the failed political grandstanding of traditional media?

Separation of Church and Business

Premise 1: A business can protect itself with firearms Premise 2: A church is a business. Conclusion: A church can protect itself with firearms.

same thing as parks

the legislation will do for churches what it did for parks. Anybody would be able to carry a concealed weapon into a church UNLESS the church says no. Before, nobody could carry into a church. Period. This change in laws assumes that everyone obeys rules, you know, like the 10 commandments.

10

What would Jesus do? Why not have armed security outside the church door instead to prevent accidents inside the church? What about cocked and loaded speaking in tongues inside the church? That would be dangerous.

back and forth

This is merely another side of the debate. A previous opinion piece (see the link) cited the need for expansive gun laws. http://www.thecitywire.com/node/25729 We’ll probably post a range of essays opining on this issue in the future. Also, as we note at the top of the essay, the opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire. If you prefer a media outlet that offers opinions on only one side of an issue, then maybe The City Wire is not for you.

One sided=Narrow Mind

The multiplicity of modern life's problems can be overwhelming as we cannot oversimplify the issues. Even when we don't agree with each other we should try many ideas on for size using our brains. Think independently and solve collectively.

thank you for printing more

thank you for printing more than one point of view. although I expect to get the fox news pov frequently in anything nwa or river valley (including the city wire), it's nice to get others too. you are one of the few places where this is possible.

New Year Epiphany

Without being too cynical. Perhaps the conservatives defeats in November have them in mourning with nothing to say at the present time. So TCW allows more from the left of center to compensate for the dearth of input from the right. It would be embarrassing for TCW of fewer readers participated in the discussions. Whatever the reason, the result is now that more diverse views are recognized for publication. This is a good thing because outsiders and would be visitors and settlers to Fort Smith will discover that our region is not overwhelmed with Right Wing, trigger-happy, redneck, hillbilly renegades who have nowhere else to hide. We have culture, a university, fraternal organization, volunteerism, affordable living, etc. Let TCW provide knowledge which attracts rather than repels......It is about time and after a hiatus from biased views, I now welcome myself back to TCW's forum. Thank You.

Basic Statistics vs. Rhetoric

This article contains several assumptions based upon emotion and politically charged rhetoric rather than facts. One statement in particular is very typical of liberal arguments for increaing gun control, "It seems our churches will soon be filled with folks carry concealed weapons." Churches will "soon be FILLED"? Really? The author needs to check his statistics about the percentage of the population in Arkansas who are legally licensed to carry a concealed handgun. According to the Arkansas State Police, as of Dec 12, 2012, there are less than 128,000 Arkansans legally licensed to carry a concealed handgun. According to the US Census Bureau, there were an estimated 2,949,131 Arkansans in 2012. Therefore, the math shows less than 4.5% of our state's population is legally licensed to carry a concealed handgun. Keep in mind also that not all licensees carry 100% of the time. According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, the median size of a Sunday morning congregation in America is 75 participants. That means there would, at most, be 3 congregants legally licensed to carry their concealed handgun. While some may argue that one gun in church is too many and I don't necessarily advocate for legally carrying in church, the sheer truth is that simple math shows that passage of the amendment would NOT result in "filling the church with guns" after all.

Filling the pews

I am a police officer who attends church every Sunday. Our congregation usually numbers about 100. I don't feel compelled to carry my weapon in the church, but do keep one locked away in my vehicle. The thought of 3 or 4 people within the space of our sanctuary trying to repel and armed intruder with gunfire is frightening. Most civilians with concealed carry permits would probably have an extremely difficult time getting off a good shot at an active shooter in such an environment and would more likely place the congregants at risk of further gunfire. It might be reasonable to have one or two members (police officers or military) who always sit in strategic locations be armed within the church, but as much as I love my church family I shudder to think of them trying to shoot it out with a bad guy. Even police officers can have difficulty getting off good shots in such duress.

Thank you for your comment

I completely agree with your thoughts. Somehow some gun owners think that once you have a gun you are able to engage in accurate high stress shooting at a moments notice, that a gun gives you the wherewithal to run towards an active shooter, that having a gun and taking a few hour class prepares someone to engage in the activity of taking a life while trying to preserve their own. All of those things are constantly trained for by peace officers and military personnel. Even with all that training there can be poor shots made and collateral damage, however I would venture to say its on a far smaller scale than if everyone with a pistol decided to open up on someone.

Martials on High, Church and Sky

Agree with strategic arming within crowded spaces. Disagree with the statistics argument of another comment. Is it more likely that conservative, God fearing church goers would own firearms taken to church? Perhaps the liberals are less armed statistically. So focus on the opposite spectrum of conceal and carry proponents. That might "tighten" the statistical field. Nonetheless, I prefer and respect the "cops" perspective. He oughta know best as his profession demands such judgement calls regarding deadly force and deterance. Thank You officers, one and all, for protecting civilization at the grass roots as the boots on the ground.

A hope from the wilderness

I hope if legislation is passed to allow concealed weapons in churches, it is required that if a particular church allows such, they must state on their front door, sign, etc. that it is a house of concealed weapons. that will give potential attendees more info to assess whether or not such a place might provide the opportunity to worship God. Or not.

Baptism of Fire(arms)

On the front door, " 'Faith in Firearms', pray safely within our sanctuary, God welcomes all". Not to be facetious, uch an idea might invite a suicidal assailant.

guns in church

It never ceases to amaze me that people can write an article and make statesments like " everybody knows" or " the majority thinks". The majority of the people that I know do not think that protecting your Pastor and freinds in Church is a pass to more volience. There are eveil people in our society that are totally aginst anything that stands for decency and truth .These people are subject to for what ever reasosn , walk into a chruch with only violence on their mind. The progressive folks are against this type of self protection are not in the majority. My 92 year old mother is even in favor of a man being able to protect his family and freinds in Church. Many a Church in Fort Smith already pay off duty police to be in the parking lot and inside the church each Sunday that carry firearms for the protection of the congration. Just because one person says they are not in favor of something does not mean they are in the " majority "

From the Good Book

Today we will be reading from the Book and Smith & Wesson 3:57. "Smith & Wesson is my shepherd, I shall not want. Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, thy muzzle and thy trigger they comfort me. I anoint thy workings with oil, my ammo box runneth over. Surely law enforcement shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the firing range forever."