TAMPA, FL – Florida pastors sent a clear warning to potential shooters, advertising a sign outside their church that says “this is not a gun free zone.”
River of Tampa Bay Church has sported the sign, signed by “the pastors,” for a year, but senior pastor Rodney Howard Browne reiterated the message in response to the Sutherland Springs church shooting and posted a picture of the sign to Instagram, according to Palm Beach Post. Associate pastor Allen Hawes told the Tampa Bay Times that the pastors felt it necessary to widely advertise the presence of guns among their congregation to assure people that their church is a safe-zone in light of recent mass shootings.
“PLEASE KNOW THIS IS NOT A GUN FREE ZONE. “WE ARE HEAVILY ARMED — ANY ATTEMPT WILL BE DEALT WITH DEADLY FORCE — YES WE ARE A CHURCH AND WE WILL PROTECT OUR PEOPLE,” the sign reads.
“If you walk through the door with the intention to harm, that sign serves as a deterrent to you,” Hawes told the Times. “We are not a soft target. People here will defend their families.”
Hawes said there are many gun carriers among the congregation of 1,200 people and members are willing to use force to defend themselves and those around them. The Texas church shooting has made churchgoers aware of their potential as a target and the need to be prepared to stop potential shooters, according to Hawes. The unsolved recent murders of four people in the nearby neighborhood of Seminole Heights also has the church on edge.
“I think just collectively, we pay very close attention,” Hawes said. “Look at Seminole Heights. Someone is murdering people. This stuff is happening all the time. Do you wait for another shooting to take precautions?”
The church has hosted several concealed carry permit classes and stands among a growing trend of churches that not only welcome gun-carrying parishioners, but also actively incorporate those parishioners and other deterrents into strategies designed to respond to the threat of mass shootings.
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