State Rep. Lynn Greer wants legal protection for anyone who may be faced with using deadly force to stop a potential church shooter.
For the third year in a row, Greer, a Florence Republican, has proposed legislation that would do that. This year's version is House Bill 49, or HB49.
If passed into law, the bill would protect those who might need to shoot someone who is posing a threat to a church congregation, like the March 15 killing of 50 people in a New Zealand mosque and the church shooting in Texas in 2017.
"This would make people feel better, feel safer," Greer said. "It would protect those who protect us in church."
In 2006, the state legislature passed the stand-your-ground law, which legally protects a person who is trying to protect himself or his family members from an armed gunman.
"Stand your ground allows protection for the self and the immediate family, and under certain circumstances the protection of others," Greer said.
HB 49 would extend the protection of stand-your-ground to people who shoot a gunman in church, and in cases where the gunman is firing at people other than his or her family members or relatives, Greer said.
For example, the proposed law would protect an individual or a church security team member who must shoot someone who is shooting other churchgoers, even if those churchgoers are not related to the individual or the security team member.
Greer believes this proposed legislation is needed, especially for members of small churches that cannot afford to hire an off-duty police officer to ensure safety.
The bill passed through the House of Representatives judiciary committee Wednesday, and will now be placed on the House calendar for a vote by House members. If it passes there, it would go to the Senate.
Greer's previous attempts to ensure protections for shooters passed the House, but died in the Senate.
Unlike previous years, Greer believes this version of the bill has a good chance of passing because it has been revised.
"We got it out of committee and it passed through the House the last two years, but we did some modifications and now it's really a better bill," Greer said.
Even with changes, proponents of the bill are not leaving it to chance. They are going to work with previous opponents to the basic concept and see if they can gain support, Greer said.
Why is the atmosphere about the bill so different in the Senate?
Because, according to Greer, it's easier to kill a bill in the Senate and because "you've got people (in there) who will kill anything that has the word gun in it."
Aside from that, Greer said there is a lot of momentum of support behind HB49.
"I think there were 120 churches in Talladega County that supported it."
Some gun-control advocates — such as the national gun violence prevention organizations Everytown For Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America — believe the proposed law would "embolden people to shoot first and ask questions later" and "could be exploited by violent criminals as an opportunity to use lethal force with no consequence."
A press release issued Thursday by Everytown said HB49 "would expand Alabama’s existing stand-your-ground law to explicitly allow any person to use deadly force when members of a religious group perceive a physical threat, even in cases where it is clearly not necessary."
It says stand-your-ground lets a person use deadly physical force to defend themselves or others from life-threatening physical force, but HB49 lets any person to use deadly force to intervene when members of a religious group perceive a physical threat, even in situations that are clearly not life-threatening.
The use of deadly force in these situations would be justified under law and immune from criminal prosecution and civil action, according to the website.
"Though the bill purports to be about protecting religious institutions, it defines a church as a congregation rather than a physical building," Everytown says. "Thus, it applies to any member of a religious group at any time, even when they are not actually on church property, opening the door for the bill to be exploited."
The website goes on to say stand-your-ground laws are "associated with clear increases in homicides and encourage violence, often among those with violent backgrounds. In Florida, nearly 60 percent of people who claimed stand-your-ground defenses had been arrested before. A staggering 30 people nationwide are killed each month as a result of stand-your ground laws."
It says such laws also have "a disproportionate impact on communities of color."
To read HB49 in its entirety, visit https://bit.ly/2HMLgSQ.