The sign from the pastors at The River at Tampa Bay Church says it all.
“Welcome to The River at Tampa Bay Church – right of admission reserved – this is private property. Please know this is not a gun free zone – we are heavily armed – any attempt will be dealt with deadly force – yes we are a church and we will protect our people.”
Associate pastor Allen Hawes says the signs are on most public entrances at the church and have been up for over a year due to recent church shootings.
“You’re not going to come in and find a soft target here where people are non-combative. We are not looking for a fight but we are willing and prepared to protect our friends and family,” Hawes said.
The church’s senior pastor and founder, Rodney Howard-Browne, posted a picture of the warning to his Instagram on Nov. 7, two days after the Sutherland Springs, Texas shooting. Responses to the sign have been mixed. Some say it’s sad it has come to this point and others thank them for being willing to protect the people.
Hawes says they’re just being realistic,
“We would rather ruffle a few people’s feathers than count bodies of people that we failed to protect. If you go to Tiffany’s at the mall there are armed guards there and that’s just for perishable goods. What about people? You can’t just replace a child.”
The signs are on just about every public entrance, with the purpose of making people think twice.
“Look at airports, they have extra security. Some schools, hospitals and stores do, so why not churches? It’s where people gather across the nation, we have a right to protect our people while we gather,” Hawes said.
The signs will remain up indefinitely.