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Mississippi Soldiers of God: Locked, Loaded, Licensed to Kill

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Mississippi Sen. Hillman Frazier waved an ornate sheathed sword, quoted Bible verses and told his colleagues “we don’t want to pimp the church for political purposes” as he argued against passage of what the Secular Coalition for America called the “Worst State Bill” in America.

“If you want to pass gun laws, do that, but don’t use the church,” Frazier said.

The Democrat’s rhetoric fell short. The Senate eventually passed, and Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed, House Bill 786, the Church Protection Act. It allows churches to arm members of their congregations and give them the authority to “shoot to kill.”

Larry T. Decker, the executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, complained the Church Protection Act places “soldiers of God” above the law.

“It allows them to act as judge, jury, and executioner,” Decker said, “and emboldens extremists by creating a legal means for radical preachers to enlist their congregants into ‘God’s army.”

Gov. Bryant signed House Bill 786 into law and proclaimed, “Another good bill, thank God” –  with a Bible on his desk.

After he signed the legislation, a photo was taken for posterity, and there was something new on his desk. A holstered handgun had been placed on top of the Bible.

Bryant said in a Twitter post April 15 he only signed the legislation because he felt, “Churches deserve protection from those who would harm worshippers.”

House Bill 786 was sponsored by Rep. Andy Gipson, a Republican who is also a minister. Gipson said he sometimes carries a firearm while preaching at the pulpit.

“I wish we lived in a world where this bill wouldn’t be necessary,” the Clarion-Ledger reported Gipson said during the debate over his proposal.

Gipson and other supporters of the Church Protection Act pointed to the 2015 killings of nine parishioners by Dylann Roof in a Charleston, S.C., church as evidence of the need for more protection.

“Unfortunately, our nation has seen tragic incidents carried out in places of worship,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said in a statement. “Mississippians should be able to attend church knowing they have security measures in place to protect them.”

The Church Protection Act does more than allow churches to create security programs to train parishioners to carry concealed weapons, and set up armed security forces for the protection of congregations.

It also allows Mississippians to carry guns in holsters without a permit and prohibits state officials from enforcing any federal agency regulations or executive orders that would violate the Mississippi Constitution.

Sen. Hob Bryan (D) thought that was a clear violation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution that guarantees federal law always trumps state law.

“You may have been wrong about things before, but you’ve never been more wrong than this. This is like arguing whether the freezing point of water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit,” Bryan complained during the debate. “Where did you go to law school? This is embarrassing, hopeless.”

It wasn’t just Democrats like Sen. Frazier and fringe left-wing organizations like the Secular Coalition that Gipson and his allies had to defeat.

Representatives of Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action lobbied against the legislation. They lost.

“Our governor failed us today,” said Shirley Hopkins Davis, volunteer leader of the Mississippi Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

She also called the legislation “a serious setback,” and said allowing people to carry concealed weapons without permits “flies in the face of public safety and common sense.”

Ken Winter, the executive director of the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police, also spoke against House Bill 786.

“This bill would put law enforcement officers and all Mississippians directly in harm’s way,” he said.

Still, even Taylor Maxwell, a spokesman for Everytown for Gun Safety, admitted the Mississippi Legislature didn’t go totally rogue with HB 786.

He told the Washington Times only two states — Georgia and North Dakota — prohibit all guns from churches, synagogues, and other places of worship. Most states leave the question of guns in church up to individual places of worship.

The National Rifle Association was on Gipson’s side, and applauded both the Mississippi Legislature and Gov. Bryant for their support of House Bill 786 and withstanding “months of misleading attacks.”

“Gov. Bryant stood strong for the Second Amendment by signing this significant bill, in spite of billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s attempts to spread lies about it,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action.

“It’s a great day for law-abiding gun owners in Mississippi,” he said. “This will allow them to carry firearms for personal protection in the manner that best suits their needs.”