By Suzi Parker
LITTLE ROCK, Ark (Reuters) - The Arkansas House of Representatives approved a bill on Monday to allow concealed-carry permit holders to take their weapons into churches, and it is expected to be signed into law by the state's governor.
The Church Protection Act would allow individual places of worship to decide whether to allow concealed handguns and who could carry them. The Republican-controlled House passed the bill 85-8 with bipartisan support. The measure previously passed the Republican-controlled Senate 28-4.
Arkansas joins a handful of other states, including South Carolina, Wyoming and Louisiana, that allow guns in churches, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Gun control and gun rights issues have dominated the public conversation since a gunman shot dead 20 children and six adults at an elementary school December 14 in Newtown, Connecticut.
Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, a Democrat, was expected to sign the bill into law. His spokesman, Matt DeCample, said that Beebe "wants to continue the discussion with lawmakers and church leaders this session."
"We've had members of the faith community reach out to us with concerns, particularly liability concerns for churches," DeCample said.
Nicholas Stehle, a member of the board of directors of the advocacy group Arkansas Carry said that it was a smart bill.
"It was past time for the legislature to get out of the business of our churches, and it appears that at least 113 legislators agree," Stehle said. "This pro-First Amendment bill gives churches that can't afford private security staff the ability to provide a safe environment for their congregants."
Robert Klein, a minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Little Rock, was one of the religious leaders to express concern. Continued...