By ROB MORITZ
ARKANSAS NEWS BUREAU
LITTLE ROCK — A place of worship that allows a person to carry a concealed handgun on the premises would have to give public notice under legislation filed Friday.
House Bill 1284 by Reps. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna, and Darrin Williams, D-Little Rock, also would shield churches from liability for damages resulting from gun play and would establish guidelines for who makes the decision whether to allow a person licensed to carry a concealed handgun into the building.
The bill was drafted with help from the governor’s office to address liability questions raised by church clergy during committee hearings on the measure.
"(There were) concerns that we had heard from the faith community about things not specifically addressed in Senate Bill 71. … So, yes, (HB 1284) is their effort to address those concerns," said Matt DeCample, spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe. DeCample also said the governor would sign SB 71, which passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate, into law Monday.
Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forrest, said Friday he thought parts of HB 1284 were "overreaction," but he was willing to consider the proposal.
During committee debate over SB 71, several pastors expressed concern that their church’s liability insurance would rise if the bill became law, and they asked if churches should put up signs informing the public on whether they allow concealed-handgun permit holders to bring weapons into their churches.
Under HB 1284, a church or other place of worship that allowed someone to carry a handgun inside would be required to post a sign measuring at least 8 inches by 10 inches at each public entrance into the building.
At a minimum, the sign would have to state that the facility allows a concealed-carry permit holder to carry a weapon inside and that there may be someone in the church who is in possession of a concealed handgun.
The measure provides that the worship facility’s most authoritative governing body or the person vested with ultimate decision-making authority would decide whether to allow a gun inside.
It would exempt places of worship from liability for damages as a result of an act involving a handgun by a person on the property unless the church has liability insurance, or if the church acts in bad faith or acts grossly, negligently, recklessly or intentionally.
In the bill’s emergency clause, which would make it effective immediately upon being signed into law, the sponsors said the measure is necessary because "prior legislation leaves many questions unanswered."
"I don’t see the need for a sign," King said. "But … if one of those churches are concerned about liability, that doesn’t mean they can’t post a sign."
Regarding the liability exemption, King said he already has been researching that issue and is willing to discuss it further. However, he said he has not heard of liability being an issue in any of the other states that have passed similar laws.
On the requirement stipulating who in the church can decide who can carry a concealed weapon into church, King declined to comment, saying he has to study that proposal.
King said he has admitted that his bill may not be perfect and may need to be amended in a future legislative session. He questioned the need for Murdock and Williams to "immediately file something" but added, "It’s a democracy, we can file any bill and we can debate it."