New York church encourages members to carry firearms as pastor declares, 'We are not a gun-free zone'

A church in Mexico, New York welcomes members who carry concealed weapons and 70-year old pastor, Ron Russell, actually encourages parishioners to arm themselves.

A church in New York encourages its members to bring concealed weapons to Sunday services.REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Members carrying guns are common during Sunday gatherings at the Lighthouse Mexico Church Of God. Russell, who has been leading his ministry since 1994, told NPR that the safety of churchgoers is his responsibility, especially since mass shootings have escalated in recent months.

Russell places signs all over his church to encourage members to bring guns. The pastor also joins his members when they take part in gun training and safety awareness courses, and even target shooting practice.

A roving security team also keeps the church grounds secure. A female church member told the publication that the church's stand on allowing concealed weapons helps her feel safe and protected whenever she attends the services. On the church's official site, the words "We are NOT a 'Gun free zone'- we protect our people!" are explicitly stated.

"People say 'well, pastor, you're talking about killing some,'" Russell said in a 2017 report. "And I say 'well, if I don't protect my people, I'm being complicit.'"

Sheriff Deputy Michael Gaita, who teaches gun safety, said that the training could help prevent mass shootings. If members are trained to spot a potential problem, then they can stop a mass shooter from attacking, he believes.

Gun safety in church has become a talking point in light of recent high profile church shootings.  In 2015, a mass shooter in Charleston, South Carolina open fired at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, leaving nine members dead. In November 2017, a gunman killed 26 members of the First Baptist Church in Texas in one of the deadliest mass shootings in the U.S.