Guns in church bill dies in Arkansas Senate panel

Little Rock, USA - A state Senate panel has rejected a bill that would allow concealed handguns in Arkansas churches, a proposal that divided religious leaders.

The measure would have removed churches and other houses of worship from the list of places where concealed handguns are banned in Arkansas. Only churches and bars are on that list.

The House approved the measure earlier this month. The Senate Judiciary Committee stalled the bill on a voice vote Wednesday.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Beverly Pyle, R-Cedarville, told the panel after the vote that she may try again with the proposal.

"This is not a gun question, it is a question of religious freedom," Pyle said.

Gov. Mike Beebe has said he'd sign the bill if it made it to his desk.

Nathan Petty, a pastor at Beech Grove Baptist Church in Fordyce, said churches should have the right to decide whether to allow concealed handguns.

"It's not the role of the state to preserve the sanctity of the church, and it's not the role of the state to impose religious judgment calls on churches," Petty said.

But Debra Carl Freeman, pastor of Westover Hills Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, told lawmakers that the proposal went against the nature of churches.

She said the bill "would fundamentally change the perception of sanctuaries in this state from places of safety, peace and openness into those of fear and suspicion."

State Sen. Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville, said she didn't see the need for the bill.

"I don't know of any church where the carrying of guns is a sacred belief intrinsic to the doctrine of that church, like the holding of communion might be," Madison said.

Grant Exton, the executive director of the Arkansas Concealed Carry Association, said of 48 states that allow concealed carry permits, 42 let churches make the decision to ban or allow firearms.