Arkansas is poised to join a majority of other states, including Ohio, that allow concealed handguns in churches and other houses of worship. Legislation passed by the Arkansas House and Senate last week is now on the desk of Gov. Mike Beebe, who has said he will sign the bill.
Among the 49 states that allow concealed handguns, Arkansas and nine others currently have specific prohibitions against taking the guns into churches.
In Ohio it's up to individual houses of worship whether or not to allow concealed handguns inside their facilities.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Members of Marietta’s First Congregational Church leave the building following services Sunday morning. The church has signs posted inside asking anyone with a concealed-carry handgun permit to leave guns outside the institution.
"If a sign is posted that no handguns are allowed, they cannot be brought into the church-otherwise, people with proper concealed-carry licenses can take their guns inside," said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks.
He said area church boards should consider the issue and decide what's best for their institutions.
Pastor Linda Steelman said signs are up at the First Congregational Church in Marietta.
Guns in church
Both houses of the Arkansas legislature have approved a bill that allows concealed handguns in churches and other houses of worship.
The legislation is expected to be signed by Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe soon.
Among the 49 states that allow concealed handguns, Arkansas is one of 10 that specifically prohibit the guns in churches.
In Ohio allowing concealed handguns in churches is left up to the individual institutions that may post signs if they want concealed handguns left outside the building.
Sources: Associated Press and Times research
"It's never been an issue here. We have signs posted, asking people not to bring guns into the church," she said. "We just ask people, out of respect for a place of peace, to leave the weapons in their cars, outside of the church."
Steelman said she knows some church members do have concealed-carry permits, but they've never complained about the signs.
Waterford Church of the Nazarene Pastor Karl Kesselring said the issue of properly-permitted concealed handguns being brought into the facility has been discussed, but the church has no signs prohibiting people from carrying their guns inside.
"We do have some folks, including law officers, who have concealed-carry permits, but it's never been an issue, and we've never had to establish a public policy about allowing them to carry concealed guns in the church," he said.
But Kesselring said he expects in the future more churches will be developing official statements pertaining to their stance on allowing guns inside those institutions.
Roger Edwards, 50, of New Matamoras, a concealed-carry permit holder, said there should be little concern about a properly-permitted handgun owner carrying his gun into a church.
"I have my permit, but had to take a 12-hour class of instruction on how to handle a gun, as well as classes on shooting, and then underwent a thorough background check before I could even get that permit," he said. "Legal concealed-carry permit holders are also law-abiding citizens. So I have no problem carrying my gun in church or anywhere."
Edwards said he doesn't carry a handgun with expectations of having to shoot someone.
"That thought never even crosses my mind," he said. "I've taken the training and went through the proper channels to obtain a concealed-carry handgun permit, so I see it as a legal right to do so."
But when he sees signs on churches or businesses asking people not to carry their concealed guns inside, Edwards said he has no problem complying with the request.
"You go to church for one reason-if you're there for that reason, it shouldn't make any difference whether you're carrying a concealed gun or not," he added.
Edwards also noted that those carrying concealed firearms illegally aren't likely to be deterred by a sign asking them not to bring a gun into the church.
One case in point is an East St. Louis, Ill., church whose congregants were robbed by three armed men Jan. 27 during Sunday services. According to an Associated Press report, one of the three men held a gun to the pastor's head and ordered the congregation to the floor. Twelve victims had cash, wallets, rings and cellphones stolen. All three suspects were arrested and jailed Friday on charges of armed robbery.
Seventeen-year-old Emilia Jacobs of Marietta said a legal concealed-carry permit holder with a gun could be a potential deterrent in such circumstances.
"I believe people should be able to carry a concealed handgun if they have gone through the legal process and obtained the proper paperwork," she said. "It could be a way to protect a church."
But 75-year-old Shirley E. Sayres of Marietta doesn't see why anyone should have to carry a concealed handgun-especially in church.
"They shouldn't have a gun at all," she said. "If someone's out hunting, that's different."
Her daughter, Barbara Sayres, 49, agreed.
"The only people who should have concealed handguns are police officers," she said.
Sam McCauley, 53, of Marietta, is a gun owner who said he may consider obtaining a concealed-carry permit.
"But personally I never would take a gun into a church," he said. "And if I did take one, I would be leaving it in my car."