Arkansas Senate Judiciary Committee Kills Church Choice Bill

On Wednesday, March 30, 2011, I testified before the Arkansas Senate Judiciary Committee along with five others (four of them pastors) in favor of HB1958, the Church Carry bill.  It passed the relatively anti-gun House Judiciary Committee and the full House of Representatives with wide bipartisan support.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Bryan King (R-Green Forest).  The Senate sponsor was  Senator Jason Rapert (R-Bigelow).  In committee, Rep. King, Senator Rapert (a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee himself) and Rep. Randy Stewart (D-Kirby) all spoke in support of the bill.  Committee member and Vice Chair Ruth Whittaker (R-Cedarville) said that she fully supported the bill.

I was the first member of the public to testify.  I brought attention to the fact that the current law is likely unconstitutional, even according to some very anti-gun legal gurus.  The current law singles out churches while all other private properties can determine for themselves whether they will allow concealed carry on the premises.  I also brought up the fact that I am a concealed handgun instructor and my students are law-abiding, honest people.  They are proficient.  I talked about all the violence in American churches that requires force to be met with force.  None of this mattered.  Half of the committee left as I spoke.  Perhaps they had legitimate business to attend to… or perhaps they didn’t want to be on the record with a vote.  Whatever the case, they were gone.  There were already too few votes to get the bill passed even if all present voted ‘Aye’ on the Do Pass motion.

Senator Stephanie Flowers (D-Pine Bluff) did most of the questioning.  Her position against the bill was obvious.  She first tried to question me and get me to somehow admit that training was inadequate or vetting of CHCL holders was anemic.  I didn’t do that because neither of those is the case.  She then pursued another avenue – suggesting that since shotguns were legal to carry, perhaps we should carry those instead.  That drew laughter from the audience, and Rep. Stewart had to explain to her that shotguns don’t shoot a single projectile – that they shoot “shot” that would scatter and form a wide pattern of destruction.  She clearly learned something new that day, so not all was lost.

Four Arkansas pastors spoke in support of the bill, including the pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Conway.  When he suggested that one of the primary causes of concern for him was his own personal safety, he added that he’d had guns pointed at him twice during his ministerial career.  He said that he was worried for his own life and worried for his congregation.  He didn’t want to be without his family or have his kids & grandkids be without him.  Senator Flowers callously replied, “sometimes people just die.”

A total of 6 witnesses spoke for the bill.  None spoke against.

Senator Flowers increasingly lost control of both her emotions and the tone of her voice.  By the end of the meeting she admitted that she harbored bigoted feelings regarding pastors when she drew attention to the “stuff [they’re] spewing”… suggesting that Arkansas preachers were riling up their congregations for murder.  She also shared a personal story from her own church that she thought would have turned deadly had anyone had a gun that day.  No mention of the fact, of course, that someone probably did have a gun – it just wasn’t legal.  Flowers also repeated the old line: “Guns do not belong in the House of God!” completely ignoring, of course, the fact that Jesus ordered his disciples to arm themselves with the the ancient equivalent of an M4 today, for their own personal protection.  She also establishes HER favored religious position and pushes it on the rest of us.  This was never about guns in church — it was always about allowing churches to decide and getting the government out of religious and personal property decisions.

The meeting was adjourned as Flowers screamed that she didn’t want to come back for a vote.

There was a vote held that evening, and Flowers didn’t bother showing up (that’s the same as a “no” vote).  Here’s the final vote:

Rapert (R)

Whitaker (R)
Thompson (D)
Harrelson (D)

No (Anti-1st Amendment Vote):
Luker (D)

Madison (D)
Johnson (D)

Not Voting (Anti-1st Amendment Abstention):
Flowers (D)

The measure failed since 5 votes are required to get the bill out of committee.  Chairman Luker declined to “sign the bill out” and allow it to be voted on by the full Senate despite the overwhelming vote in support of the bill in the full House.

There is no hope for another bill until a new legislature convenes in 2013.  The earliest we can hope to have a bill working for churches, then, is mid-summer, 2013.

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