Though he thought it a bad bill that made a fine mess and required correction, Gov. Mike Beebe signed the guns-in-church measure Monday.
That was a new one on me.
In 30 years of covering the occasional madness of state government, I’d become accustomed to the notion that governors exerted leverage either to get bad bills amended or tabled or defeated, or even vetoed them.
But Beebe sometimes treats the governorship like clerical duty. The secretary of state, for example, certifies incorporation papers whether he likes the corporation or not. Likewise, Beebe makes trash into law whether he likes it or not.
Don’t fault him; he’s only the governor.
He seems to have become even more passive now that he confronts Republican legislative majorities.
He’s always been one to talk military metaphor and pick his battles carefully. Nowadays his theme seems to be that the people of Arkansas voted for Republican majorities so they deserve bad laws.
All he seems really to want out of this session is to make history by expanding Medicaid in the face of all this raging know-nothingism.
He doesn’t even seem to care much about his own grocery-tax drawdown. He wants it only if revenue picks up. And he trivializes it by letting Sen. Jason Rapert sponsor it.
Even in regard to the steel mill, Beebe told the Senate the other day that, hey, we’re proposing this deal because we’ve decided it’s a good one, but that he never was crazy about all these tax incentives, so you senators do whatever you want.
Then he left and said he had more important things to do.
Sign bills he thought messed up, I guess.
And that brings us back to guns in church.
As I have explained, the problem stems from the fact that we typically over-legislated—an ironic habit considering the small-government rhetoric we spout but belie—when we enacted the law allowing the licensed carrying of concealed weapons.
We presumed to say in that law that you couldn’t carry your concealed gun into church. Most states with concealed-carry laws left churches to their own free-religion devices, either expressly or by blessed silence, which is almost always better.
You don’t necessarily need a statute for every circumstance. We’ll never be able to keep up.
Then some rural churches got the idea they needed armed parishioners to stop the terrorists—or maybe President Barack Obama, whom so many Arkansas rural parishioners believe to be a Kenyan Muslim socialist angling to send drones into their sanctuaries and oppress them into the heathen act of insuring themselves for health care.
“Live sick or die”—that’s their motto.
So then rural legislators decided we need to amend this concealed-carry law specifically to allow churches to do what churches ought to be allowed to do, which is take care of their own presumably holy business.
Thus we had a simple bill saying the church exception would remain in effect, but get negated by a subsequent contradictory phrase saying that churches could decide for themselves.
That is to say the law would say one thing, then the opposite, giving us two offsetting paragraphs to accomplish what no paragraph would do.
Late in the debate, some churches started worrying about how to distinguish armed churches from unarmed ones.
And some of the churches actually seeking to arm themselves got to worrying about whether liability-insurance rates would go up if somebody got messed up in a gun accident—a misfire during kneeling for communion, perhaps.
So Beebe got persuaded that these issues ought to be addressed through typical—and ever-regenerating—over-legislation.
But he couldn’t get the sponsor to agree to slow down the bill for amendment. And he saw that the bill was going to pass as it was. And he figured a veto would be expeditiously overridden, since we tragically allow that by simple majority vote.
Thus he made the decision to sign a bill he thought messed up, then to get other legislators to put in a “companion bill” to repair the mess made by the law he just made.
But it’s not a companion bill if it comes after. It’s a follow-up bill. And if he can’t now pass this correction bill, then he will have burdened us with a law he believes to be a mess.
And this correction bill, House Bill 1284, is a piece of work in its own right.
In order to distinguish between unarmed and armed religion, and apparently in the belief that more churches will choose to be unarmed than armed, the bill provides that churches allowing guns say so in a rather small sign (at least 8 inches by 10 inches) posted at every entry.
The bill doesn’t dictate the language, but advises as to what a minimum declaration ought to relate. A piece of paper saying, “You might get shot in here,” probably would be, though accurate, not sufficient.
Then the bill presumes to address these other burning issues:
- As to how a church decides whether to be armed or unarmed, this companion bill, or corrective one, says the decision would be left to the “most authoritative governing body” or “the person vested with the ultimate decision-making authority over the church.”
That latter one sounds to me like God.
- As to liability for churches allowing guns, the bill provides that churches wouldn’t have liability unless they were, you know, liable . . . via some actual negligence. If the preacher drew down on you during the song of invitation, and if there was an injurious discharge, then all bets presumably would be off.
All of this has many of us thinking that the home-church movement, like the home-school movement before, is likely to gain momentum in Arkansas.
John Brummett’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at brummett.arkansasonline.com, or his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.