Bill to allow concealed weapons in churches picks up support

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - Ola Franklin will turn 81 on Sunday, even if she wondered whether she would make it out of church alive almost a year and a half ago.

She still wears the watch that three masked robbers demanded when she, along with her entire congregation at Third Baptist Church, was robbed at gunpoint during Sunday service in September 2011.

"It was a dangerous thing, really, because all of us could have been gone," she said in her Little Rock living room, clutching her watch.

She's had plenty of time to think about the frightening armed robbery that rattled all 17 victims inside the small, tight-knit church.

"Those boys were just pointing their guns at everyone and told us to get on the floor," she recalls. "I kept my head down and just prayed."

Little Rock Police eventually arrested three suspects, two of them juveniles, shortly after the incident.

Now Franklin is throwing her support behind a State Senate bill that aims to allow Arkansas churches to decide whether to allow concealed carry permit holders to carry handguns inside the church.

"We're just really not used to taking guns to church," said Franklin. "But the way things are now, I imagine you're going to have to take one everywhere you go."

The Church Protection Act was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, which has the bill's sponsor optimistic about its passage in the House.

"I don't want people to be defenseless," said Senator Bryan King (R-Green Forest). "If they chose to be that's their decision but if they do have a concealed carry permit and they're able to protect themselves, that's their law abiding right."

Some pastors, however, feel the proposed legislation would invite danger into their places of worship.

"I don't see us putting up a sign that says, 'we're gun-friendly please come in,'" said Pastor David Hoffman of Winfield United Methodist Church in Little Rock.

The risk of a gun-related accident worries Hoffman.

"From a safety standpoint of just an accidental discharge or the possibility that there would be an exchange of gunfire in the church," he said, "I don't think we should be allowing firearms in the church for any reason."

Senator King says he introduced similar legislation in 2011 but it did not make it out of committee after criticism through e-mails and letters.

"This time I haven't received anything," he said.

COMPLETE COVERAGEMeasures filed to allow guns in church, on campus (Jan. 17)UPDATE: Ark. panel advances proposal on guns in churches (Jan. 23)Bill to allow concealed weapons in churches picks up support (Jan. 23)Churches will soon have a choice to allow guns in the building (Feb. 4)Bill would require signs for gun-allowing churches (Feb. 8)Ark. Gov. signs bill permitting guns in church (Feb. 11)