JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill Friday that allows some members of churches to undergo firearms training so they can provide armed security for their congregations.
The Church Protection Act specifies that those designated can carry guns into church buildings and gives them legal protections. It also allows people to carry holstered weapons without a permit.
Only two states — Georgia and North Dakota — prohibit all guns from places of worship, said Taylor Maxwell, a spokesman for Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates for gun control laws. Eight states prohibit concealed carry permit holders from carrying guns into places of worship; other states leave it up to the place of worship.
The law also makes Mississippi the ninth state in the nation to allow people to carry holstered guns without a permit, said NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter.
The bill was authored by Baptist pastor and state Rep. Andy Gipson, who says it's necessary in light of the massacre of nine parishioners during a Bible study last year in Charleston, South Carolina. He said the law gives small congregations an option to defend themselves against attack.
Opponents say it endangers people by putting more guns in untrained hands.
It's a difficult discussion that can get politicized and very emotional, flattening an issue with more nuance, said Pastor Pat Ward, who leads Orchard Church in Oxford.
"I think in the South people have a certain familiarity with guns and are also strong in their religious beliefs," Ward said. "But we don't always think about the relationship between them. What does our familiarity with guns say about us as people who claim to be following God, who preach about peace and love?"
The Mississippi Association of Police Chiefs has opposed the portion of the bill that loosens permit requirements. The group says it dismantles Mississippi's licensing system and makes it harder to check someone who has a gun isn't a violent criminal.