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Lawmaker Wants to Refine Bill
on Guns in Churches

BY ED ANDERSON                                                                                                   ©2010 Religion News Service

he chief sponsor of a bill that would allow guns in houses of worship has asked his colleagues to delay action so he can draft amendments to prevent what one lawmaker called "unintended consequences."

State Rep. Henry Burns, a Republican, ran into tough questioning on his proposed measure from Democratic members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

Burns said he wants to resolve questions about the bill, including concerns from state Sen. David Heitmeier that the bill could have "unintended consequences" by allowing members of unofficial churches that are front groups for extremist groups to carry firearms.

State Sen. Lydia Jackson also pointed out that the bill is not limited to nonprofit organizations -- like churches.

"This is i-dotting and t-crossing," Burns said of the changes he will have to make to his bill to keep it alive in the last three weeks of the legislative session. But he conceded that his bill may be in trouble as the clock runs down.

"There were some negative vibes in the committee," Burns said. "When the committee chairman has concerns, it could spell trouble" for the bill.

Committee Chairman Danny Martiny said that if Burns' bill passes this year when it is limited strictly to carrying guns in churches, "next year it will be strictly (limited) for something else."

State law now declares houses of worship gun-free zones, and Burns' bill would allow firearms only if congregational leaders decide to take advantage of his proposed law. Parishioners would also have to be informed of the change.

The bill, however, would prohibit carrying firearms into churches or other religious institutions on school campuses, and require that individuals tapped for armed security detail undergo additional training. "We live in a different era than we used to," Burns said. Arming those who attend the services is needed because many houses of worship are located "in high-crime areas" where individuals are vulnerable.

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