The last time I felt seriously threatened in church was during a nighttime revival service when I was 11 years old. The small country meeting house, lighted by kerosene lamps, was packed with sweating, fanning sinners. The visiting evangelist, also sweating profusely, was shouting that I would burn in hell if I didn't walk down the aisle right then and kneel at the altar. Because, as the old hymn said, "tomorrow's sun may never rise, to meet the glory of the skies." The threat of hell was terrifying, as was also the threat of having to earn my salvation by walking down that dark aisle in public. And giving up all those sins I hadn't even sampled yet.
I no longer have to worry. Our state's political leaders have ridden to the rescue. They have saved me from threats I didn't realize existed in houses of God, while simultaneously striking a blow for freedom. And for the right of my adopted state to look as ridiculous to the rest of the world as it wants to. No more do I need to fear the awesome threats voiced by a sweating evangelist, threats which I am unlikely ever to face again and which, in any case, I no longer fear. No, I am safe, because now I can take my gun to church. And so can anyone else attending, so far as the state is concerned.
You have to wonder how any adult could seriously think this is a good, or necessary, idea. I would have thought Governor Deal would at least look a little ashamed as he signed the bill into law, but no, he looked positively delighted, giddy even. His smile was radiant. I have to wonder why. Because I have never thought he was a stupid man. So what political imperative persuaded him to sign this obnoxious thing into existence? Or what financial incentive? We know politicians have to have vast sums to run for office, but there must be a limit to what one will do to please backers.
It's not just the terrors of the church from which I am now safe, or will be in July when the law takes effect. I will also no longer have to cower in terror if I happen to visit a school, where playground bullies were a major threat when I was eight. Maybe they could be again. Who wants to be attacked, defenseless, by a husky third grader?
I don't often visit bars, but if I do, I'll be able to shoot those who threaten me. If I'm willing to swear I was in fear of my life, I can probably get off at trial for killing some businessman who stopped in for a quick one on his way home and offended me somehow. I'll need to start thinking about sharpening my gun skills, though, because bars are notoriously dark, often loud during happy hour, and filled with distractions that can spoil one's aim. Like alcohol.
But the newly freed area that worries me most is the church. I go to church more often than I go to bars or to schools, so it's there where I am most being protected by this new law. I worry that a member with a private grudge against another member might be inspired by the sermon to fight sin by shooting the one he perceives as a sinner. And I might be caught in the crossfire. I worry that an emotionally overwrought individual might be annoyed by something the pastor said and wing him with a .38. My pastor is a pretty good fellow, and I'd hate to see him injured. I'd also hate to have to take the time to testify at trial. And I worry that, for whatever reason, a fellow congregant might be annoyed by a snorer and take a potshot at him. Not at me, of course, because I would never be so rude as to snore in church. But there's always a chance of being hit by mistake.
After all, being a Christian doesn't mean you can shoot straight.
Robert B. Simpson, a 28-year Infantry veteran who retired as a colonel at Fort Benning, is the author of "Through the Dark Waters: Searching for Hope and Courage."