Church Faces Backlash for Giving Out Free AR-15 During Sunday Service

A church in New York has drawn criticism and protests for holding a giveaway for a semi-automatic rifle.

Grace Baptist Church in Troy, a city near Albany, gave out an AR-15 assault rifle during its Sunday morning service. "If you support the 2nd Amendment, life, and the Bible, we hope to see you Sunday at 10AM as we give away another AR-15!" the church wrote on its Facebook page last week. The church's website noted that this was "Round Two," as a previous giveaway of an AR-15 was held back in 2014.

Pastor John Koletas said that the giveaways were meant to honor gun owners and hunters who have "been so viciously attacked by anti-Christian socialist policies," according to local NBC affiliate WNYT.

Newsweek reached out to Koletas and his church for further comment did not hear back before publication.

An AR-15 assault rifle is seen for sale on the wall at the National Armory gun store in Pompano Beach, Florida, on January 16, 2013. Joe Raedle/Getty

Some came out to protest the giveaway, criticizing the church's decision to offer a free gun.

"It's extreme poor taste, the time that they decided to raffle off a rifle when we have all of the shootings going on in all of our communities," protester Steven Negron told CBS affiliate WRGB 6 News.

"Celebrate Jesus by threatening to kill your neighbor! I think you read the wrong book," Facebook user Seth Maser wrote on the church's post promoting the giveaway.

"As the Lord says in his famous assault rifle speech: Whosoever shall smite thee on your right cheek, shoot him down!" Facebook user Hoss-Ben Kasper wrote in a sarcastic comment.

But New York state Assemblyman John McDonald, who represents the state's 108th District, said there was nothing illegal about the giveaway. He pointed out that the church was requiring the winner to undergo a background check and to be at least 18.

"Trying to simplify this discussion, this is about a raffle of an item of value. I have no idea what the value of the gun is. Say it's $500, that's what this is," McDonald told WRGB 6 News. "This is a raffle of a $500 gift certificate. Whoever wins that raffle still has to go through the proper background checks and processes and training permits to be able to hold that gun."

Those interested in winning the gun were required to email personal information to the church ahead of the event in order to be entered into the drawing.

"Our advice is to come early. There may be a long line outside like there was the last time," the Grace Baptist website said.

The website also cautioned that "anyone wearing their jeans, pants, etc., below their waistline will not be permitted in the building or the service."