Lighthouse Mexico Church of God
The Lighthouse Mexico Church of God, in upstate New York, whose pastor has encouraged congregants to bring guns to mass. Google Streetview

The pastor of an upstate New York church has told his congregation that it is ok to bring firearms to his place of worship as it is "not a gun free zone."

Ronald Russell, pastor at the Lighthouse Mexico Church of God in Oswego County, has invited his flock to bring their firearms, even in the wake of the horrific massacre in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

That shooting left 26 people dead, and in response to the tragedy Russell says he has been allowing firearms in the church, ever since white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine church-goers in Charleston in 2015.

"Times are changing," Russell told Spectrum News. "People say 'well, pastor, you're talking about killing some,' and I say 'well, if I don't protect my people, I'm being complicit," Russell said.

He added: " A shooting here, that's not going to happen."

Russell said that the choice to allow worshippers to bear arms during services was made by church leadership, not necessarily the congregation.

A sign outside the church, which is about 30 minutes drive north of Syracuse, reads "we say it again, we are not a gun free zone" while on their website they say "we protect our people!"

It was also reported that the Pentecostal church offers parishioners self-defence classes and lessons in identifying suspicious behaviour.

In Buffalo, also upstate New York, the True Bethel Baptist Church was reported as having police SWAT team instructors helping with active shooter training at the church.

In the wake of the Texas church massacre debates about gun control have raged in the US, with some believing that the nation needs more restrictions around firearms, especially around mental health and high-powered automatic weapons.

On the morning of 5 November, gunman Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire with a AR-15 assault rifle killing 26 people and becoming the deadliest shooting inside a house of worship in modern US history.