Armed with a sheathed sword and scripture, Mississippi Sen. Hillman Frazier (D) scolded his colleagues on Tuesday morning.
Supporters of the Mississippi Church Protection Act, which lets places of worship appoint members to serve as armed security for congregants, were using religion as a shield for an expansion of gun rights, he said.
“We don’t need to pimp the church for political purposes,” he said before the chamber, according to the Clarion-Ledger. “If you want to pass a bill liberalizing gun laws, then do that. Don’t use the church.”
But Sen. Sean Tindell (R) defended the bill, citing violence at religious institutions and a congregation’s need to defend itself.
“The self-defense of these churches is a God-given right,” Tindell said, according to the Associated Press.
In the end, Tindell’s side won out, with the Senate approving the measure in a 36-to-14 vote and sending it to the House. But the bill does much more than its title implies.
Yes, it allows churches to create security programs, affording criminal and legal protections to those designated to serve in such programs. But it would also let residents carry concealed guns without a permit, as is the case in eight other states, the National Rifle Association told the AP.
“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,” Chris Cox, the head of the NRA’s lobbying arm, told the AP.
That same provision raised concern from the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police.
“We just don’t believe that it’s a good idea for people to be carrying concealed weapons and not have participated in any training,” Executive Director Ken Winter said, according to the AP. It could contribute to the threat that officers face, he added.
A different part of the bill would prohibit state officials from enforcing federal executive or agency orders that violate the federal or state constitutions, prompting a testy exchange between Tindell and another senator.
“Where did you go to law school?” Sen. Hob Bryan (D) asked Tindell, according to the Clarion-Ledger. “Are they telling people there that the Mississippi constitution trumps federal 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. This is embarrassing, hopeless.”
Federal courts have ruled in the past that agency rules trump state laws, according to AP. The bill now heads back to the state House, which passed an earlier version last month.