The New York church that gave away a Smith & Wesson M&P15 rifle Sunday plans to repeat the drawing tonight despite some opposition.
“We give free food, clothes and furniture to show our support to poor people in the community,” the Rev. John Koletas of Grace Baptist Church in Troy told ABC News today. “We are giving away guns to people who are able to legally own guns and hunters to show our support to them.”
Ron Stafford won the $899 rifle Sunday during a drawing at the church, Koletas said. Stafford could not be reached for comment.
Koletas says he has received support from hundreds of people in the community, including Republican N.Y. Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin.
McLaughlin, who Koletas said spoke at the Sunday service where the first rifle was given away, declined to comment.
Another pastor who lives in the same neighborhood expressed reservations about the drawing, which is free to enter.
“I don’t have anything against anybody who is offering a weapon to a citizen that has the right to legally bear arms, however the platform he is giving away this rifle is wrong,” Pastor Willie D. Bacote told ABC News today.
Bacote heads Missing Link AME Zion Church of Troy and The Dyer Phelps AME Zion Church in nearby Saratoga Springs.
“I’ve been fighting to get guns off the streets in Troy for the last seven years,” he said. “Guns for anyone are no good. He has the right and the autonomy to do whatever he chooses, but the platform that he’s using and justifying it with scripture is the problem.”
The rifle that the church plans to give away tonight is similar to those used in some high-profile mass shootings, such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School attack in Newtown, Conn., and the movie theater incident in Aurora, Colo., both in 2012.
“I think these types of mass shootings are very sad,” the gun-owning Rev. Koletas said. “God is very clear on giving us the right to protect ourselves from those that want to harm us.”
The church sent a flier to a list of married gun owners who hunt to promote the drawing, which was also posted on its website.
Koletas says the church is only giving the gun away to those that can legally obtain weapons. Anyone can submit their names to the church and a winner is chosen at random.
“We reserve the right to disqualify anyone we don’t feel comfortable with giving a rifle to,” he said.
Stafford picked his prize up today from the Oakwood Trading Post in Troy, where manager Bill Dolan said the church bought the rifle from his store.
“He [Stafford] passed his background check with the FBI,” Dolan said, “and was able to leave out with the rifle this morning.”