Sunday, 28 June 2009

WTF #5

June 27, 2009, 12:30 pm

A Congregation of the Armed and Faithful

New Bethel ChurchPool photo by Ed Reinke Cliff Meadows, left, listening to Ken Pagano, the pastor at New Bethel Church.

The Lede is in Louisville, keeping track of events at the New Bethel Church, which has invited its members and the public to bring their firearms this afternoon in celebration of gun rights.

Update | 8:06 p.m. It was as peaceful as a family picnic, maybe even more so because everyone seemed to agree — it is time, they said, to stand up openly for gun rights, even in church, which is where they stood today.

Nearly 180 people flocked into the sanctuary of the New Bethel Church here late Saturday afternoon, some of them wearing side arms, many of them saying “Amen,” as Ken Pagano, the pastor, spoke from the sanctuary stage in front of a large wooden cross.

“We want to send a message that there are legal, civil, law-abiding intelligent people who also own guns,” he said in a 90-minute program that was part sermon, part gun-safety lesson and part display of the power of positive thinking. “There is nothing to be afraid of from a legal firearms owner.”

Mr. Pagano was not wearing a firearm. But another pastor — Charlie Hinckley, who has been the preacher at another Assembly of God church until recently and joined Mr. Pagano on the platform — was wearing his .380 Smith & Wesson on the belt of his jeans.

He said after the program that it was the first time he had worn his firearm into church. Asked if he felt weird doing so, he said, “No, considering what we’re here for.”

William Southern, 35, an irrigation specialist who attended the event, said he had no qualms about wearing his .357 magnum into church and that it wasn’t much different from carrying his cell phone.

“It almost has the same feeling, it’s about the same weight,” he said. “I didn’t pay any attention to it.”

Like many others, he said that earlier in the country’s history, preachers had been required to carry their firearms into church. “Our country started off that way,” he said. “What’s wrong with it now?”

Asked what today’s event would accomplish, he said, “Gun awareness, I hope, but in all reality, probably just a fun day.”

Update | 4:50 p.m. A banner has been unfurled on the lawn at the New Bethel Church here, where people are starting to pull into the parking lot for the gun celebration.

Sheriff’s deputies are on hand to make sure the firearms that are openly carried into the sanctuary are not loaded. (Of course, they will not check the concealed weapons that may come in because, by definition, they will not know who has them.) The festivities are scheduled to get under way within the hour.

In the meantime, here is an interesting story from The Los Angeles Times, which reports that violence in churches is on the upswing.

The Times article quotes a church security consultant saying that in the last decade, 50 people were killed and 30 wounded in 35 church shootings. In 2007, there were 6 church shootings. In 2008, there were 18.

In response to this rise in shootings, the article says, churches are turning to security companies for help and even asking members to carry guns to church to protect their security.
That very much reflects the view of Ken Pagano, the pastor here at the New Bethel Church, who is the organizing force behind the event Saturday, which will include some lessons in gun safety as well as a $1 raffle for a handgun.

Original Post | 12:30 p.m. We are just a few hours away from the bring-your-gun-to-church event here at the New Bethel Church in Louisville. Doors open at 4:30 p.m.

The pastor, Ken Pagano, told us a couple of days ago that the church’s insurance company was opting out for the day, and that there was some question about whether parishioners would have to leave their guns outside. But I just spoke with Mr. Pagano, and he said he had found new insurance coverage for the day. He would not say who provided it.

“Everything is a go,” he said.

He said he still had no idea how many people might show up.

And he said he was still deluged with interview requests. He got up at 4 a.m., he said, to accommodate a network TV crew, and he was preparing for another network interview shortly. He said he had been e-mailing with some people in Bulgaria and a man in Amsterdam, who, Mr. Pagano said, told him he wants a “totally gun-free world.”

Mr. Pagano said that between 90 and 95 percent of the mail and calls about the event were positive. The negative comments, he said, were from people who do not understand that what he is doing is legal.

“This is like I’m driving down the highway and doing the speed limit of 55 and people are honking and making obscene gestures because I’m obeying the speed limit,” he said. “I’m not doing anything that’s illegal, unbiblical, unhistorical or unconstitutional, but people still want me to justify it.”

He also said that he had heard that another church in Kentucky was holding a similar event, but said he did not know where that was.


  • June 26, 2009, 2:45 pm

    A Debate Over Guns in a Kentucky Church

    Update | 7:06 p.m.

    On my way into the library here in Louisville, I was greeted by this sign.

    Katharine Q. Seelye

    It was kind of startling for someone who lives in New York City, where the guns laws are much more restrictive and there is no need (or less of a perceived need) for such signs.

    But here in Kentucky, the gun laws are among the least restrictive in the country, which makes possible an event like the one tomorrow night at the New Bethel Church, where people will be wearing and carrying their firearms into the sanctuary for a celebration.

    You don’t need a license or permit to buy or carry rifles or shotguns in Kentucky, and you don’t need a permit to buy a handgun, though you do need a permit to carry a handgun. And you can get a license to conceal your firearms, if you meet certain requirements (are 21, pass a course, etc.).

    Even with a license, there are some places where you can’t go: police department, jail, courthouse, school, daycare center or airport, to a meeting of a governing body or to a place that sells alcohol as a primarymain part of its business (that is, you can’t bring your gun into a bar but you can bring it into most restaurants).

    But bringing a concealed weapon into church is perfectly legal.

    Still, some places where guns are legal, like certain restaurants, say, or the library, don’t want them. In those cases, they have to post a sign saying specifically that concealed weapons are not allowed.
    It’s all part of a gun culture that is long entwined with Kentucky history. I was chatting about this with James C. Klotter, Kentucky’s state historian and a history professor at Georgetown College, near Lexington. He said he worried that this gun culture gave outsiders a negative view of the state.

    “Unfortunately, Kentucky has always had this image of a mountaineer with moonshine over one shoulder and a rifle over the other,” he said. Of the bring-your-gun-to-church day, he sighed. “This just feeds the image,” he said.

    But, he added brightly, “Kentucky has many cultures.”

    Update | 4:53 p.m.

    Here’s something interesting that popped up when we were researching the surge in gun sales that occurred across the country after President Obama’s election in November.

    As we noted before, the post-election surge may be tapering off. Of course, every surge tapers off, almost by definition. But what we saw here was a remarkably consistent cyclical pattern to the ebb and flow of gun sales.

    These are the numbers of instant criminal background checks that take place when a gun is bought or transferred. It’s the closest gauge there is of actual gun sales, which the feds don’t track.

    As you can see from the pattern, gun sales tend to start rising in the fall and reach their peak in December. Then they dip, dropping to their lowest levels in the summer.

    We checked with the FBI about the pattern, and they confirmed our hunch: two things are going on here. One is that hunting seasons begin in the fall, so naturally there would be more sales then. The other is the holidays. People like to give guns as presents, or at least receive them.

    So, was the spike after Mr. Obama’s election in November just part of a cyclical pattern? Was it a bit of hype by those with an interest in seeing gun sales rise?

    Yes and no. The two durable factors of hunting season and the holidays were obviously still at play. But as you can see, this surge was a record, in raw numbers, and the peak lasted a little longer than it usually does. The same thing happened with the surge in late 2001 surge brought on by 9/11. You can see from the chart that the post-9/11 peak continued longer than usual.

    In November 2008, there were 1,529,635 background checks — more than at any time since the instant check program began in 1998 — and a 42 percent jump over the previous November (there was no corresponding 42 percent rise in the population). The checks were off slightly in December, and more in January and February, then back up in March. They started to slide in April, as they typically do. But this April, they were still 30 percent above the previous April. They continued down in May, but again, that was still 15 percent above the previous May.

    So it was fortuitous for those with an interest in promoting gun sales — gun sellers, of course, and lobbying groups like the National Rifle Association — that Mr. Obama’s election was in November. The numbers were going to rise anyway; the election was icing on the cake.

    2:45 p.m.

    I’m here in Louisville (where the temp is a blistering 92 degrees and it’s really humid) to follow the “bring-your-gun-to-church” celebration here on Saturday night.

    Yesterday I wrote about Ken Pagano, the pastor of the New Bethel Church. He’s what some are calling the “pistol-packing pastor,” who has invited his parishioners to bring their weapons into the sanctuary, learn a bit about firearms safety, raffle off a gun and have a picnic.

    Clergy from some other churches and peace activists are sponsoring an alternative event, called “Bring your peaceful heart, leave your gun at home,” and today I visited with the organizers.

    The alternative is planned for the same time as the gun celebration, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Church in Louisville’s east end, about a half-hour from New Bethel.

    The executive director of the Interfaith Paths to Peace, Terry Taylor, one of the organizers, told me that he and 18 co-sponsors planned this event because they were “deeply troubled by the idea of wearing weapons into sacred space.”

    He said they did not consider themselves “protesters,” per se, and did not want to be part of a demonstration at New Bethel. (Mr. Pagano told me he plans to set up a cordoned-off area for demonstrators outside his church.)

    Terry Taylor and Diana Fulner are coordinating the alternative event. Katharine Q. Seelye Terry Taylor and Diana Fulner are coordinating the alternative event.

    “A protest is not the way we do things,” Mr. Taylor said. “We’re not against things, we’re for things. Going and carrying signs at that event would build unhappiness and could potentially be confrontational. They have the right to do what they want. We’re going to give people an alternative that we think is better.”

    The co-sponsors include those from many faiths: Quakers, Episcopalians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Unitarians and Tibetan Buddhists. Their event, also a picnic, will feature music, chalk-painting and readings about peace. Mr. Taylor said one Quaker planned to read from the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

    No one really knows how many people will show up at either event. Mr. Taylor said he expected the gun event would “bring people out in significant numbers because it’s so odd.”

    “It’s attracting national and international attention,” he said, “but it’s not who we are.”

    He said he told Mr. Pagano about their alternative event. “To his credit,” Mr. Taylor said, “he said he felt that that’s what America is all about — we’ll do our thing and he’ll do his. Then we’ll move forward. Two different worlds.”


    1 comment:

    1. I was thinking how this was just plain wrong on so many levels but the alternative event stuff at the end did give me some hope that the US may survive its own dogma.
      As long as the rest of us can