Church Warns Visitors Its Congregants Are 'Heavily Armed'

A church in Tampa, Florida, placed controversial signage warning those who enter that their congregants are "heavily armed." But do such warnings work?

close-up of hand loading a clip into a gun

Churches throughout the country don’t typically make threats to anyone entering their buildings. But one church in Florida is creating headlines for its controversial signage that adorns its doorways.

The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida has placed signs on all of its entryways alerting anyone who comes inside that its congregants are packing heat. One of the leaders of the church, Senior Pastor Rodney Howard Browne, also published the image of the signs on his Instagram account.


Welcome to the River at Tampa Bay Church - our sign at every door of our church #welcomesign #theriverattampabaychurch

A post shared by drrmhb (@rodneyhowardbrowne) on

The sign states that “right of admission [is] reserved.” It also states that the church “is not a gun free zone — we are heavily armed — any attempt will be dealt with deadly force.”

Although it doesn’t specifically state what type of "attempt" would prompt a response of “deadly force,” it’s clear that the sign is meant to ward off individuals who may seek to do harm to others inside.

The sign has been posted for over a year on every doorway to the church, but it came into focus following a mass shooting at a Texas Baptist church last month that left 26 individuals dead and dozens more injured.

The River sometimes employs its own security force, in uniform and in plainclothes, to be on the lookout for would-be assailants, the local Fox affiliate reported.

“If you think you are going to come here and do that [perform a mass shooting], this is a deterrent for you because it is everywhere, it's not like we hide these signs,” Associate Pastor Allen Hawes said.

Yet it’s unclear what these signs are accomplishing, if anything. Many who have seen the sign on social media have blasted the sign itself.

“The way it is worded and all the comments and Bible verses taken out of context” troubled one Instagram user.

“Your [sic] misinterpreting God's character," the Instagram user wrote. 

Another user pointed out that the church may be endangering its congregants, stating that a potential shooter with a death wish “will be targeting your church.”

And there’s another problem: Statistically speaking, guns don’t make people safer. In fact, just the opposite generally occurs: A gun in one’s home makes that person almost twice as likely to get shot than a someone in a home without a gun.

Now imagine that statistic, except with a church full of guns, and full of people ready to pull the trigger at a moment’s notice.

These signs may allow church congregants to feel safer. But there’s no evidence that the signs actually accomplish much, and encouraging churchgoers to “arm up” against a perceived threat may actually create more problems. Would a church full of paranoid congregants react to a stranger entering their doorways with kindness, or would a strange noise be met with an irrational response by attendees? There are too many variables to consider — and too many guns ready to be shot to give a definitive answer.

More should be done to prevent gun violence in society as a whole — and solutions like these are the clearest evidence yet that there’s a larger problem in America.

Banner / Thumbnail : Rick Wilking/Reuters

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