Louisville, Ky. For one day, at least, it was OK to pack heat in church.
More than 200 people answered gun-toting Pastor Ken Pagano’s call to celebrate the Second Amendment at New Bethel Church in Louisville on Saturday. There was just one rule for the several dozen who brought their guns along: No bullets.
“We are wanting to send a message that there are legal, civil, intelligent and law-abiding citizens who also own guns,” Pagano said during the 90-minute event, which was open to the public. “If it were not for a deep-seated belief in the right to bear arms, this country would not be here today,” he told the crowd, drawing hearty applause and exclamations of “Amen!”
The “Open Carry Celebration” included a handgun raffle, patriotic music and screening of gun safety videos. Some gun owners carried old-fashioned six-shooters in leather holsters, while others packed modern police-style firearms. Kentucky allows residents to openly carry guns in public with some restrictions.
“I just believe in the right to protect ourselves,” said Liz Boyer, who had a bright pink Glock in a black holster at her side. The 41-year-old isn’t a member of the church but teaches a class on gun safety for women at a local range.
Brittany Rogers, 23, feared guns as a child. But her fiance encouraged her to go sport shooting with him about a year ago, and she said she has been hooked ever since. On Saturday, she brought her tiny Kel-Tec P-32 to church.
“It was a fear of the unknown,” Rogers said, “but now I love it.”
Pagano’s Protestant church, which attracts up to 150 people to Sunday services in a conservative neighborhood of southwest Louisville, belongs to the Assemblies of God. He thought up the event after some church members expressed concern about the Obama administration’s views on gun control, though the president hasn’t moved to put new restrictions on ownership.
Across town, a coalition of peace and church groups concerned about Pagano’s appeal to gun owners staged their own gun-free event.
“I think when people first learned about this invitation to wear guns to church, many people were deeply troubled,” said Terry Taylor, one of the organizers. “The idea of wearing guns to churches or any sacred space I think many people find deeply troubling.”
Pagano’s event also troubled his church’s longtime insurance carrier, which declined to insure the event and informed him it won’t renew the policy. He found a new carrier at a cost of $700 for the day, but guns had to be unloaded.
Despite that snag, he said the event went off without a hitch. Asked what type of gun he himself was carrying, he smiled and touched a bulge on his hip.
“Cell phone,” he said.