New York pastor's Sunday service assault rifle giveaway draws controversy

An upstate New York Baptist pastor has stirred controversy with his plan to raffle off a rifle during a Sunday service later this month, saying giving away the weapon is "the right thing to do."

The Rev. John Koletas of the Grace Baptist Church in Troy 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 on the church website, the Times Union of Albany reported.

Koletas said he is he's showing support for Second Amendment rights by giving away the brand-new Smith & Wesson M&P semi-automatic rifle, a weapon similar to the Bushmaster rifle used to kill 20 children and six staff members at Newtown, Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.

"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 told the Times Union of Albany. "It's the right thing to do."

A typical AR-15-type rifle is now illegal in New York. The $700 rifle being given away at the March 23 raffle has been modified — its pistol grip removed — so that it complies with New York's gun laws, according to Brian Olesen, a gun shop owner who's donating the weapon.

The raffle winner must be at least 18, undergo an FBI background check and meet all state and federal laws, Olesen said.

The rifle raffle has sparked outrage among some of the area's other clergy members, including a pastor who has worked to get guns off the streets of nearby Albany.

"There's no way we should be in a church saying we're going to be giving away a weapon that could end up in the wrong hands," Charlie Muller of the Victory Christian Church told WRGB-TV.

Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, an opponent of New York's SAFE Act, told the Times Union he plans to speak at the March 23 service when the rifle will be raffled.

"It's not like I'm going to the Hell's Angels," McLaughlin said. "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."

Rev. Willie Bacote, pastor of Missing Link AME Zion Church in Troy, who has organized gun buy-back programs in the city, said he considers the raffle un-Christian.

"The fact a church would offer some type of weapon to anyone strikes me as ludicrous and goes against everything the Bible teaches," Bacote told the newspaper. "The only thing we're supposed to arm citizens with is the word of God, not guns."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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