The Stamford Advocate reports…
“The pastor of a Lansingburgh Baptist church plans to give away an AR-15 assault rifle to the winner of a free raffle at an upcoming Sunday service.
A provocative flier he distributed rallied supporters of gun rights and stirred controversy among anti-gun advocates and some who considered it un-Christian.
The Rev. John Koletas, pastor of Grace Baptist Church, said the service and gun raffle are aimed at “honoring hunters and gun owners who have been so viciously attacked by the antichristian socialist media and antichristian socialist politicians the last few years,” according to a letter he posted on the church website.
Koletas, who works as a Rensselaer County court reporter, said he wanted to show support for Second Amendment rights.
“I’m just trying to be a blessing and a help to the gun owners and the hunters and give away a free AR-15,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
He said the constitutional right to own a gun should not be abridged, any more than First Amendment rights should be.
“If someone doesn’t want to own a gun, that’s their right,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t think we should be critical of legal gun owners who gave us our freedom.”
Members of his family, congregation and the owner of a gun shop that will donate the Smith & Wesson semiautomatic rifle backed his contentious plan.
“I’m for it,” said longtime church member Jarvis Heater, 52, a carpenter doing maintenance Wednesday inside the red-brick 1886 church on Fourth Avenue in the Lansingburgh neighborhood of Troy.
“I’m totally in support of Second Amendment rights,” said the pastor’s 19-year-old son, John Koletas. About 100 people typically show up for a Sunday service, he said.
Irene Koletas said it was not a marketing ploy and underscored her husband’s strong belief in a constitutional right to bear arms. The flier was mailed to a list of gun owners, she said. It featured a photo of an assault rifle under a bold headline: “Win a FREE AR-15.” It included a Bible quote from John 14:27: “My peace I give unto you.”
The Kentucky Baptist Convention of churches made national news this week and garnered controversy for recent “Second Amendment Celebrations” that include a free steak dinner and raffle to win handguns, long guns and shotguns. The outreach effort for “unchurched” young men resulted in a spike in attendance.
Koletas, 56, is no stranger to controversy. He was arrested seven times by Troy police in 1989 and 1990 for loud and incessant street-corner preaching, and was charged with disorderly conduct. All charges against him were dropped or dismissed. Koletas argued he had a constitutional right to preach in public and he sued the city and police for false arrest. He lost a $485,000 lawsuit after the police documented numerous citizen complaints. Koletas was featured on the national tabloid TV show “Inside Edition.”
“The pastor is a customer of ours and we want to support and promote any kind of Second Amendment activity,” said Brian Olesen, owner of Oakwood Trading Post, a gun store in Troy that is giving Koletas a brand-new Smith & Wesson M&P semiautomatic rifle with a wholesale price of $700. Olesen said it is a modified “modern sporting weapon” that complies with the New York SAFE Act.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law on Jan. 15, 2013 firearms regulations in response to the Dec. 14, 2012 assault rifle massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children and six adult staff members. The SAFE Act spurred large protests at the state Capitol and ongoing efforts to repeal it.
Olesen said the winner of the church gun raffle must be at least 18, undergo a rigorous FBI background check and meet all state and federal laws before the gun is handed over to its new owner.
Olesen owns five gun stores in the Capital Region as part of his Capital Gun Group. He described himself as a “disenfranchised Catholic” and praised Koletas for linking his support of gun rights to Scripture. Koletas said on the church website that his preaching is based on the 1611 authorized King James version of the Bible “as the very word of God.”
Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, R-Schaghticoke, an outspoken opponent of the SAFE Act, will speak at the March 23 service when the rifle will be raffled and saw no irony in accepting the pastor’s invitation.
“It’s not like I’m going to the Hell’s Angels,” said McLaughlin, who spoke last year at the church, which is in his district. “I belong to a Catholic church and they raffle off thousands of dollars. This is a safe, legal firearm he’s raffling. I don’t see the controversy, and it doesn’t strike me as odd at all that they’d raffle a rifle at a church.”
“The fact a church would offer some type of weapon to anyone strikes me as ludicrous and goes against everything the Bible teaches,” said the Rev. Willie Bacote, pastor of Missing Link AME Zion Church in Troy, who has organized gun buy-back programs in the city. “The only thing we’re supposed to arm citizens with is the word of God, not guns.”
“A man has a biblical and moral right to defend his own and having arms is a legal way to protect your home,” said the Rev. Bob Gray Sr., retired pastor of Longview Baptist Temple in Longview, Tex., who will speak March 23. He knows Koletas and said he saw no conflict with a church using a gun raffle to attract attendees. “We are called to be fishers of men. You just need the right bait.”
“This is one of the strangest things I’ve seen,” said Albany County District Attorney David Soares, who has assisted gun buyback programs. “We’re prosecuting people selling these guns from the trunks of cars in hotel parking lots. All our urban centers are struggling with gun violence. I hope the pastor is praying that this gun doesn’t end up on the street and involved in a homicide.”