Mississippi lawmakers are one step closer to ensuring churches have the ability to designate armed guards at their discretion.
The Church Protection Act will now head to the Mississippi House after its Senate voted 36-14 in favor of the measure. The law aims to allow individuals to obtain permits for the explicit purpose of protecting houses of worship.
“[The bill] gives members of the church, if they so choose, a greater ability to protect themselves and their families and their church,” state Sen. Sean Tindell told WLBT-3 on Tuesday.
Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association, cheered the bill’s progress.
“This important piece of pro-gun legislation clarifies existing law in Mississippi and ensures that each Mississippian has the right to carry their firearm in the manner that best suits them,” Cox said in a statement.
State Sen. Hillman Frazier, a Democrat opponent of the bill from Jackson, said he did not want lawmakers “to pimp out the church for political purposes,” the NBC affiliate reported.
FBI affidavits filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit in February suggest The Church Protection Act could not be more timely. Khalil Abu-Rayyan, 21, of Dearborn Heights, Michigan, allegedly told an undercover agent that he wanted to attack churches because they are generally gun-free zones.
“A lot of people go there. Plus people are not allowed to carry guns in church,” the FBI affidavit quotes him as saying, WND reported Feb. 22. “Plus it would make the news. Everybody would’ve heard. Honestly, I regret not doing it. (If I) can’t go do jihad at the Middle East, I would do my jihad over here.”
Abu-Rayyan was denied bail by a magistrate and faces up to 10 years in a federal prison if convicted on charges of possession of a weapon while under the influence of illegal drugs, WND reported.
The June 2015 massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, was cited by Mississippi lawmakers as a reason why the new bill is necessary. Nine parishioners died on June 17, 2015, at the hands of an armed gunman who later admitted he wanted to start a race war.
Dylann Roof, 21, was arrested after the shooting and charged with nine counts of murder and firearms charges. In addition to nearly three-dozen federal hate-crime charges filed against Roof, state prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Roof’s trial is scheduled to begin July 11.