A Pennsylvania church will bless gun-toting couples in a ceremony taking place just half a mile from a local elementary school.
Followers of the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary Church will be blessed by spiritual leaders at their campus in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania, on February 28. Only heterosexual couples have been asked to take part.
Attendees are requested to bring their own semiautomatic rifles, including AR-15s and AK47s as part of the "Cosmic True Parents of Heaven, Earth and Humanity Cheon Il Guk Book of Life Registration Blessing." Those who cannot legally acquire a weapon have been asked to purchase a $700 gift voucher from a gun store.
Parents whose children attend neighbouring Wallenpaupack South Elementary School have voiced concern over the event, which comes just days after 17 people were killed at a high school in Miami, Florida. Nikolas Cruz, 19, is charged with the killings of 14 students and three adults during his attack which was carried out with a legally-purchased AR-15 rifle.
"It's something I would consider keeping my child home. It's scary," parent Liz Zoccola told WNEP-TV.
"I wish they wouldn't have it at all. I don't think there's a good time to have it, especially this close," local mother Kendra Hanor said.
Tim Elder, the Unification Sanctuary's director of world missions, says that the event was planned months before the Miami school shooting and says all weapons will be unloaded and securely checked by staff.
According to Elder, Church teachings say assault weapons symbolise the New Testament's "rod of iron" passage and illustrates followers' "intent and the ability to defend one's family, community and 'nation of Cheon Il Guk'."
The Sanctuary is run by 38-year-old pastor Hyung Jin Moon, the son of Unification Church founder and self-professed messiah Sun Myung Moon. The Unification Church was founded by Moon in 1957 in Seoul, Korea using teachings from the Bible and his own family beliefs. He passed away in 2012.
Followers of the movement, which some claim is a cult, believe Sun Myung Moon's teachings will eventually bring humanity to heaven or 'Cheon Il Guk' - a state of eternal peace and happiness.
The Unification Church off-shoot is a staunch supporter of Americans' rights bear arms and will host President Trump Thank You Dinner" on Saturday — a fundraiser for Gun Owners of America.