Leaders of a Tampa church say a controversial sign warning that the property is not a gun-free zone helps protect the congregation.
TAMPA, Fla. - Leaders of a Tampa church say a controversial sign warning that the property is not a gun-free zone helps protect the congregation.
Signs are posted outside every public entrance at River at Tampa Bay Church in east Tampa.
"WE ARE HEAVILY ARMED - ANY ATTEMPT WILL BE DEALT WITH DEADLY FORCE - YES WE ARE A CHURCH AND WE WILL PROTECT OUR PEOPLE," the sign reads.
The church's well-known senior pastor, Rodney Howard-Browne, posted the year-old sign to his Instagram page just days after the tragedy in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
"He made it very well known on social media and here at the ministry, if you're going to come here to look to do harm, you're going to be met with force," said Associate Pastor Allen Hawes.
Hawes says the signs are a deterrent for crime. The non-denominational church also keeps 24-hour security for the 83-acre property, as well as Hillsborough deputies in the sanctuary during services.
Julian Sutton supports his gun-toting congregation's security measures. River at Tampa Bay Church attracts a massive Sunday attendance, between 1,400 to 1,800 people to its main campus.
"People are in a place that they should feel safe," said Sutton. "To know that we have people that carry, in the event that something were to take place, that something like that could be stopped."
The pastor's pro-gun post has gone viral, generating heated reactions from both sides.
"At the end of the day, we may ruffle some feathers, but I would rather ruffle a couple of feathers than count bodies," said Hawes.