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Published March 27, 2013, 08:51 AM

Williston leaders reject guns-in-church request

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — Commissioners in Williston have rejected a request from 10 pastors that would have paved the way for concealed guns in churches in the northwestern North Dakota city.

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — Commissioners in Williston have rejected a request from 10 pastors that would have paved the way for concealed guns in churches in the northwestern North Dakota city.

The pastors said they did not necessarily plan to allow concealed weapons, but they wanted the decision left up to churches and not the government.

"The simple, brutal, hard truth of this is (that) somewhere in this country there is some evil man that is plotting another mass murder," said the Rev. Will Page, associate pastor of Cornerstone First Baptist Church.

Williston is in the heart of the booming North Dakota oil patch that is drawing people from around the country in search of jobs, causing some residents to fear an increase in crime. Surrounding Williams County had 923 concealed weapons licenses and renewals issued last year, double the previous year, according to the state attorney general's office.

Faith United Methodist Church had an incident Sunday morning that caused alarm for the congregation, said the Rev. Mark Britton. A man who smelled of alcohol moved to the front of the church during a Scripture reading, prompting parents to pull their children closer. The man only knelt at the altar and prayed, but people were unsure of his intentions, Britton said.

"What if that guy's intent would have been to harm me and my congregation members?" he said. "That's why I think churches should be allowed on a case-by-case basis to discuss this and come to a rational decision whether to support it."

Commissioners on Tuesday night expressed concerns about safety if churchgoers were allowed to carry concealed weapons, The Forum newspaper reported (http://bit.ly/10doK4L ). Commissioner Tate Cymbaluk questioned what would happen if 15 people at a service had concealed weapons and decided they needed to use them.

"You're going to have crossfire and all hell's going to break loose," he said.

Mayor Ward Koeser recommended referring the matter to a committee for further study, but commissioners voted 4-1 to deny the petition, with Koeser the lone dissenting vote.

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