By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
Sunday, after a fatal church shooting in Texas that was stopped by armed congregants, State Rep. Lynn Greer said he began hearing from people in Alabama, including fellow lawmakers.
Greer in the upcoming 2020 legislative session will again sponsor a bill to clarify that church members can use deadly force if threatened.
“I don’t carry a gun to church, but I’m more comfortable knowing they’re there,” said Greer, R-Rogersville.
Since 2017, previous versions of the bill have sought to expand the state’s self-defense law by codifying that a person is presumed justified in the use of physical force if they reasonably believe someone is about to do serious harm to individuals inside a church.
There has been opposition to the bill, including Democrats and the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense.
In 2018, the bill cleared the House but died in the Senate. In 2019, it never got a vote in the House.
Now, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, is offering to work with Greer and sponsor the legislation in the Senate.
“Unfortunately, places of worship will increasingly be targeted in the future whether they are churches, synagogues, mosques, temples or otherwise,” Orr said on Monday. “I look forward to working with Rep. Greer to make sure his legislation is the best it can be to protect worshipers from outside attackers but also any reckless would-be defender.”
A man who trained others in his Texas church to use guns to protect the congregation fatally shot a gunman seconds after he opened fire during a service, the Associated Press reported Monday.
Jack Wilson fired a single shot, quickly ending the attack that killed two people at the West Freeway Church of Christ in the town of White Settlement, near Fort Worth. More than 240 worshipers were gathered in the church at the time.
Speaking outside the church, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said authorities “can’t prevent mental illness from occurring, and we can’t prevent every crazy person from pulling a gun. But we can be prepared like this church was,” the AP reported.
Paxton joined other Texas officials in hailing the state’s gun laws, which allow weapons in places of worship. He said the church’s security team was formally organized after a law this year affirmed the right of licensed handgun holders to carry a weapon in places of worship, unless the facility bans them.
Similarly, Alabama law doesn’t prohibit guns in places in worship, but leaves it up to the property owner.
Democrats have opposed Greer’s bills in previous sessions, saying it’s not needed because the 2006 “stand your ground” law already applies in churches.
That law says deadly force is justified if someone believes they or another are in danger of unlawful deadly physical force.
This year, Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Mobile, a prosecutor in Baldwin County, questioned Greer’s bill in committee.
Monday, Simpson said he was concerned the 2019 bill would put a different standard on stand your ground in churches than in other places.
“I don’t want it to be tougher to prove if it happened in a church as opposed to the general public,” Simpson told Alabama Daily News.
The 2019 bill made it out of committee, but never got a full House vote.
When the bill appeared to be in trouble this year, Greer and several other GOP lawmakers sponsored county specific versions as proposed constitutional amendments to clarify that church members in their local counties can use deadly force if threatened. Only two — Lauderdale and Franklin counties — made it through the Legislature. But because one House member voted against the proposals, they’ll now be on ballots statewide in November 2020.
“Some churches, they’re big enough to hire law enforcement (as security),” Greer said Monday. “But some can’t. And there isn’t enough law enforcement to go around.”
The 2020 legislative session starts Feb. 4.