Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 11.47.35 AMWhen Gov. Mike Beebe signed the Church Protection Act into law this month, Arkansas joined Louisiana, South Carolina, and Wyoming in allowing parishioners to bear weapons as they bear witness.

There is a certain logic to this: if you can arm teachers, why not preachers? If Jesus came with a sword, who is to say that in modern times his flock can’t pack a Glock? Advocates for such measures maintain that, a church being a public place, a mobilized congregation could defend itself from whatever armed intruder that threatened the peace of the faithful.

Unlike the NRA’s post–Sandy Hook push to allow guns in schools, however, there’s an American tradition of pistol-packing prayer—one that dates back beyond the Founding Fathers and the Second Amendment to an even earlier authority: the Puritan elders. During the drawn-out Indian Wars, colonists, on constant alert for raids, weren’t just expected to worship armed but were actually fined for praying without their weapons handy, the historian Bernard Bailyn tells us.

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