The Lighthouse Mexico Church of God in Oswego County, New York, sports a "we are NOT a gun-free zone" advisory on its website — and on its outdoor sign — and the pastor makes no bones about shielding attendees from mass shooters.
"Pastors are commissioned by God — I believe by God — to protect their sheep," pastor Ron Russell told WRVO-FM, adding that he carries a gun in church along with several other members.
Russell told the station that he's encouraged members to bring guns to church ever since gunman Dylan Roof fatally shot nine people in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
"If it’s out there — 'wait a minute, churches are starting to arm themselves' — then it’s going to put a question mark in those people’s minds that want to cause a shooting," Russell said to WRVO. "Are they going to come to this church where they know — and you had probably five or six armed people in this church today — or are you going up the street where, you know, 'Well, that church up there, they don't have nobody'? Where are they going to go? They aren’t going to come here to be challenged."
Janine Fortino, who sings in front of the congregation, told the station the church's gun policy offers a sense of comfort.
"I’m very vulnerable up there and knowing that I’m taken care of and protected is a very good feeling," she told WRVO.
Has the church offered gun training?
- Oswego County Sheriff's Deputy Michael Gaita ran several training sessions for church members at Russell's request, the station said.
- "I’d rather train him and his people so that they know what they’re doing instead of just having regular Joe Citizen out there wheeling a pistol around," Gaita told WRVO.
What's another reason the church endorses gun-carrying members?
- Simply put: Police response time. Russell told the station that the time it takes for cops to arrive on the scene can open the opportunity for a mass shooting.
What else does the deputy say?
- Gaita emphasized to WRVO that prevention is an even better weapon — so he also focuses on helping other spot warning signs.
- "If I can train you what to look for, then you can get involved and stop it from happening because when the police respond it’s too late," Gaita added to the station. "I’m responding."
A growing trend?
- River at Tampa Bay Church sports a similar sign that warns anyone with plans to harm those inside: Members of the congregation are armed — and they will use “deadly force” if necessary.
- Pastor Jamie Chapa of El Faro Bible Church in Sullivan City, Texas, said last November he plans to carry a handgun while preaching in light of the Sutherland Springs massacre that took the lives of over two dozen parishioners and injured many more.
- Robert Caleb Engle fought a man who opened fire inside Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee, last September — and then raced to his car and got a gun so he could protect the church and its congregation while waiting for authorities to arrive.
- Texas pastor Ron Smith of Church of the King McAllen also endorses gun-carrying members. Check out the following video report of his take on the issue:
(H/T: Bearing Arms)