Published March 24, 2014
Ron Stafford had a hunch that this past Sunday's church service would be different, but he certainly didn’t think he’d take home an AR-15.
Stafford, 42, of upstate Schenectady, N.Y., won the assault rifle during a pre-announced raffle at the March 23 service at Grace Baptist Church in Troy, where pastor John Koletas preaches that the constitutional right to bear arms shall not be abridged.
On Monday, Stafford was on his way to pick up the gun -- valued up to $1,200 -- after a federal background check.
"I’ll plead the Fifth on that,” Stafford joked when asked if the AR-15 was his first gun. “I’m on my way to pick it up right now, and to meet the pastor.”
Stafford, who works in sales, said he went to the service “on a whim” and didn’t expect to be selected. Three other people were initially picked, but Stafford walked away with the gun because they had already left the service, which drew roughly 150 congregants.
“Actually, I went on a whim; I wanted to see what this was all about,” he told FoxNews.com. “I found out about it about a month ago and I wanted to exercise my God-given right.”
Koletas, who could not be reached for comment, reportedly received death threats due to the giveaway, but won’t be deterred – he’ll actually be giving away another free AR-15 during a service late Monday.
“My peace I give unto you,” reads a flier promoting the event, quoting the Gospel of St. John. “Qualified attendees will receive a legally-modified AR-15 … All giveaways are absolutely free to enter (attendance required).”
All winning applicants will be subject to a federal background check, must be age 18 or older and provide a valid driver’s license. The church also reserves the right to deny anyone of “questionable character,” according to the flier.
“We have the Constitution to protect us,” Koletas told parishioners during the service, according to the Albany Times-Union. “But we have our liberty to protect ourselves.”
Koletas declined to elaborate on details of the alleged death threats he received and indicated he had not contacted authorities.
“I don’t need the police to protect myself,” he told the newspaper.
A large portion of the church’s budget was used to purchase the gun and to promote the event, said Koletas, who declined to give specifics.
Bob Gray, a retired pastor from Texas, spoke during Sunday’s service and is scheduled to appear again on Monday. Republican Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin also attended Sunday’s event, WNYT.com reports.
“Yes, it is unusual,” McLaughin told congregants. “Is it illegal? Absolutely not. And it’s not unethical either. And the people have every right to support the Second Amendment. I hope everybody does.”
Gray raised some eyebrows during the service when he told the crowd — some 75 of whom registered for the drawing — that he had a concealed weapon amid the pews.
“And listen up, reporters,” Gray said, according to the Times-Union. “It’s not registered.”
Some churches in Kentucky have also been using guns to attract new members. Earlier this month, churches in Paducah — where three students were killed during a school shooting in 1997 — hosted “Second Amendment Celebrations.” At Lone Oak First Baptist Church, roughly 1,300 people crammed into the church hall for a steak dinner and pep talk by gun expert Chuck McAlister, who was hired by Kentucky’s Southern Baptists to grow membership. Twenty-five guns were raffled off during the dinner and winners were required to pass a background check.
"I brought a gun with me tonight," McAlister told the group, according to NPR.org. "I know that's very controversial."
FoxNews.com's Joshua Rhett Miller contributed to this report