Churches not rushing to allow weapons

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 243 views 

While carrying a concealed firearm is losing some of its stigma in the state of Arkansas, there is still one place where packing a concealed firearm may get you thrown to the curb.

In corresponding with more than 35 churches in the Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas areas, The City Wire was unable to find a single church that has adopted a policy of allowing worshipers to carry a concealed firearm.

The Church Protection Act of 2013, also known as Act 67, was signed into law by Governor Mike Beebe in February and would allow churches to determine whether to allow concealed firearms on a church campus.

Cross Church, with locations in Fayetteville, Rogers and Springdale, is one of the largest churches in the state and has said it would not allow guns on its campuses, the church said in an e-mail.

"Please know that Cross Church takes the security of our members and guests very seriously and has trained, armed, plain-clothed and uniformed officers at each of our campuses weekly. Therefore, after careful consideration and prayer, our church Board of Directors has decided that Cross Church will not allow any other concealed handguns on any of our campuses."

St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville is another church that has enacted a no guns policy. According to Susie Freeman, administrator of St. Paul's, the congregation's policy is a direct result of action taken by the Diocese of Arkansas, which she said is governed by an executive council.

"A resolution was passed in February that says in response the Arkansas Church Protection Act, the policy of the diocese is that guns not be allowed within the church," she said.

When the law was passed, she said many in the church "thought it was pretty ridiculous." Due to the feelings of many of the parishioners within the diocese, allowing guns was never really a consideration.

The only exception to the no guns rule, Freeman said, is during community meals or when there could be a threatening situation at the church. She specifically cited a visit from the Rev. Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Church's first openly-gay bishop, as an example.

"We did because there had been threats against his life in the past and we wanted to do everything we could to uphold his safety," she said.

Whether it is a community meal or a threat against a pastor's life, any armed guards on St. Paul's campus will be clearly identified, according to Freeman.

"We have off-duty police here and they have to be in full uniform, otherwise they can't have a gun," she said.

In the Fort Smith area, churches were more hesitant to discuss the new law and their policies developed as a result of the law.

At New Life Church on Dallas Street, a staffer who refused to identify herself said no policy was currently in place at the facility while at Evangel Temple on Dodson Avenue, Pastor Don Hutchins said his church also had yet to develop a policy.

Many other pastors did not return calls seeking comment.

Kevin Thompson, pastor of Community Bible Church with locations in Fort Smith, Greenwood, Ozark and Van Buren, would not talk in detail with The City Wire about why his church has decided to not allow concealed carry.

"It's a no-win situation for me," he said.

While Thompson would not elaborate other than to state again that his church was a gun-free zone, he has previously addressed the church's decision. In a February 27 Facebook post, Thompson said the new law had not changed his church's policies regarding guns on church grounds.

"Apart from its safety team, Community Bible does not allow concealed weapons at any location," he said on his Facebook post.