The church even has a sign that openly states "We are NOT a gun free zone."
When the parishioners at one Oswego County church gather for worship each week, many of them are armed - and it's no secret. The Lighthouse Mexico Church of God even advertises that its not a gun-free zone, a response to the frequent mass shootings in the country that are the subject of some debate.
Walking into the church on a Sunday morning is more like joining a family reunion than attending a mass. Music plays for the first half of the service as the parishioners move about the church greeting one another and joining in community prayers. The pastor Ron Russell says his church is like a family, and it's his responsibility to ensure their safety.
"Pastors are commissioned by God - I believe by God - to protect their sheep," Russell said.
Russell cares for his flock with a loaded gun, as do several members of his congregation.
He has encouraged his people to bring their firearms to church since 2013 when Dylan Roof walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC and killed nine people. The church places that no gun-free zone advisory on its website, warning anyone who might target them.
"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. "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, one of the church's singers, said the policy makes her feel safe.
"I’m very vulnerable up there and knowing that I’m taken care of and protected is a very good feeling," Fortino said.
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