[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/06/30/intv.pagano.art.jpg caption="Pastor Kenneth Pagano is a gun rights advocate who encourages his parishioners to bring their firearms to church."]
You may not think that God and guns go together, but a pastor in Kentucky certainly does. He's encouraging his congregation to embrace their Second Amendment rights by coming to church armed.
On Saturday, Pastor Kenneth Pagano sponsored an “open carry celebration” at his church. He spoke to John Roberts on CNN’s “American Morning” Tuesday.
John Roberts: A question a lot of people might have is – what do God and guns have in common?
Kenneth Pagano: Well, the idea that a deep-seated belief in God and an appreciation for firearms, which was the basis for the founding of this country, which was also settled by very religious people evidently has not - has historical precedence for not being incongruous, and we also agree with the same.
Roberts: But the question is do guns belong in church? Even in the frontier days there were many churches that said to people, “Leave your weapons outside. No firearms inside the church.”
Pagano: There were also many churches that said you can have them. There are still congregational buildings in New England that go back to the colonial eras where there are actually gun racks that are there. It was also mandated that you had to bring your firearm with you with ammunition when you went to church, if not, you would have been fined. So this is not something new. It’s new in our generation, but it's not a new concept at all. We're trying to promote responsible gun ownership, that there are community-minded, legal law-abiding citizens such as myself and others who appreciate firearms as a sports tool, but also believe in the right for self-defense and self-protection. Church is not a building. A church is a gathering of people. People have the right to defend themselves wherever they are.
Roberts: Pastor, I was doing a lot of looking around this morning at the reaction to the event you had on Saturday night and some of the critics were asking things like “Would Jesus carry a weapon?” And “What would Jesus think of a pastor who beat plow shares into swords?”
Pagano: Well, here’s the thing. Because of my theological perception, I believe one day Christ will return to establish his government here on his earth and at that time we will beat our swords into plow shares. But until then, those who only have plow shares will always be subjected to those who have the swords. What would Jesus carry? You know that’s kind of a tongue and cheek thing. We do know this. We do know that his disciples who were his close entourage, we do know that there were at least two in the bunch that were carrying swords. He wasn't opposed to them carrying swords. Matter of fact, there was a time he told them to sell a cloak and buy a sword. What he was opposed to was the inappropriate use of the sword, which was to keep him from going to the cross to die for the sins of the world.
Roberts: You're kind of getting it from all sides. You have the critics, again, who say “Would Jesus have carried a weapon,” but you’ve got critics among gun advocates who say the fact that you stipulated that people had to bring their weapons into church unloaded and the only loaded weapon belonged to a police officer kind of rankles them. David Codrea, who is a gun rights advocate, wrote in Examiner.com “The idea that police are the only ones who can be entrusted with loaded firearms should be offensive to everyone who believes in the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Everybody's kind of ganging up on you from the right and left.
Pagano: Here's the thing, the truth shall set you free. And if people knew the truth of what was going on, the open carry celebration, the reason for open carry was mainly insurance reasons. I'm a firearms instructor, I work with the police, I'm a competitive sports shooter. Not everyone who owns a firearm is necessarily always responsible or safe with them. I didn't know everybody who came to the celebration. There were people who were carrying loaded firearms who were not law enforcement. There were people who were legally carrying concealed weapons that were hot and ready to go. We don't have a problem with that. Just because a person owns a firearm, doesn't means they're safe and responsible anymore than a person who owns a vehicle means they're a safe and responsible driver.
Roberts: There's also the bigger issue too of guns in church, just generally. There have been several high-profile shootings in churches recently. One of the attendees to your open carry celebration on Saturday, Tommy Hillerich, told the New York Times “If the pastor is in there and he's got a concealed weapon and somebody comes in and starts shooting people, he can take him out. That's his right.” Do you think it would be a good idea for pastors to carry weapons?
Pagano: Absolutely. They're shepherds. When a person comes into my congregation, they are my responsibility, not only spiritually but physically. Jesus called himself the great shepherd and according to the 23rd Psalm the shepherd has a staff for direction and a rod for protection.
Roberts: So Pastor, do you carry a concealed weapon on Sundays?
Pagano: I couldn't tell you that because that would totally negate the idea of carrying a concealed. You’d leave me at a tactical disadvantage. Contact a Gary Moskowitz there in New York City who is a rabbi who is promoting a national security council of religious leaders wanting to see this very type of legislation. Listen, I've gotten phone calls from people from Israel and other parts of the world and they're saying, “You know what? We've been trying to say this all along.” Our military personnel have to attend chapel services with their firearms. While we are in a civilized world, we have a lot of uncivilized people and America's no different.