Pastor Organizes Gun Celebration at Church

A pastor in Kentucky is redefining the tradition of wearing your Sunday best to services by encouraging his congregation to strap on holsters and bring their weapons to church.

Pastor Ken Pagano of New Bethel Church in Louisville, Ky., says that he organized an "Open Carry Celebration" to promote responsible gun ownership.

"As a Christian pastor I believe that without a deep-seeded belief in God and firearms that this country would not be here," Pagano told "I'm not ashamed of that fact. I'm proud of it."

The celebration scheduled for Sunday, June 27, will feature YouTube videos promoting gun safety and will ask congregants to join in singing patriotic songs, according to Pagano.

A $1 raffle to win a free handgun will also be part of the festivities.

"This will basically be a display," said Pagano, who owns two hand guns, a Walther P99 and a Sig Sauer 225. "Nobody is going to be taking anything out and waving it. We're promoting responsible and safe gun ownership."

Pagano said that the raffle will also be done legally through a local gun range and the gun will only be given to someone who has met "national standards." Money raised from the raffle will go toward the cost of the gun and any extra will be donated to charity.

There will be extra security present during the celebration, said Pagano, and guns will be checked to make sure they are unloaded prior to entering the church.

While Pagano says that the majority of the congregation voted in favor of the celebration -- he said otherwise they would not have planned it -- others are not as happy.

Paul Helmke, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said that encouraging people to bring guns to a church is a contradiction in terms.

"Christ tells us to put down the sword and this pastor seems to be encouraging them to take up the sword," said Helmke.

According to national statistics, guns kill 86 people each day in the U.S., 34 of which are homicides. The remaining incidents are either suicides or accidents, according to Helmke, who estimates that two to three people are killed each day by an accident involving a gun and twice that many are injured because of a gun.

Critics Call Pastor's Gun Celebration Misguided

Helmke said that ensuring guns are unloaded when they arrive at the church does not guarantee anyone's safety.

"Yes, having the guns unloaded is helpful, but every day in this country someone is killed or injured by a gun they thought was unloaded," he said. "If you take a clip out of a semi-automatic a lot of people still think it's unloaded when really there is still a bullet in the chamber."

"I'm all for pushing responsibility, but encouraging more guns is not the way to do it," said Helmke, who suggests advocating for a law to require background checks on people buying guns.

"If Pastor Pagano was doing things to push for background checks on sales and to put restrictions on the types of guns that can be sold to the public, then I'd salute him," said Helmke.

Rev. Jerry Cappel, president of the Kentuckian Interfaith Community, a coalition of local religious leaders in the Louisville area, said that he, too, thinks Pagano's celebration is "misguided."

"I'm not opposed to people having guns. I have three," said Cappel. "But you don't have to be extreme to find this inappropriate."

"You can be OK with the right to carry arms, but still find that joining the right to carry and Christ to be misguided," said Cappel.

Pam Gersh, a Louisville resident who helped organize a Million Mom March against gun violence in the area in 2000, said that she sees no point to what Pagano is doing and wishes there was more of a "concrete plan" when it came to preaching responsible gun ownership.

"The serious issue of gun violence is not being addressed," said Gersh. "I don't really understand the purpose of what Pagano is doing here."

Gersh mentioned that it's even more frustrating that news of Pagano's celebration comes just less than a week after controversial abortion doctor George Tiller was fatally shot in his Kansas church.

"Where there are killings of people like Dr. Tiller in church and there is no discussion of gun violence and only of abortion, then it shows there's no real open dialogue about how to solve this problem," said Gersh.

Pastor Says He's Celebrating Right to Carry Guns

But Pagano, who says the celebration has been in the works for almost a year, disagrees and says that people's dissent on his celebration has exemplified exactly what he's trying to promote: personal freedoms.

"I understand their concerns and I applaud them for their expression because the whole point of this is to promote the First and Second Amendments," said Pagano, referring to the amendments that guarantee freedom of speech and the right to bear arms.