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CBS Local — A church in Pennsylvania has thrown itself into the nationwide debate on gun laws by announcing they will be hosting a blessing ceremony for couples with an AR-15 assault rifle. The controversial event is set to take place just two weeks after 17 people were killed in a Florida high school by a gunman using the same weapon.

The World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, PA — an offshoot of the Unification Church — is inviting couples to bring their semi-automatic rifles to the church on Feb. 28 to “show their willingness to defend their families, communities and nation.”

“All of the weapons in the ceremony will be checked to make sure they are unloaded, with a zip tie so that no bullets can be inserted,” Sanctuary Church president Richard Panzer said in an email obtained by The Times-Tribune. The church leader added that local police were welcome to attend the ceremony to make sure the event is safe.

According to the church’s website, the ceremony will focus on the “rod of iron” and each couples’ pledge to defend their home and the coming nation of Cheon Il Guk — the biblical kingdom of God referred to in scripture. The church describes the “rod of iron” as an “AR15 semiautomatic rifle or equivalents such as an AK semiautomatic rifle.”

Amid public concerns over the ceremony, Panzer claimed their was no connection between his church’s blessing and recent school shootings around the country. “Regarding the school shootings, if any of the teachers had been allowed to carry a firearm, many lives could have been saved. Several states have passed legislation to allow exactly that.”

Critics are also slamming the location of Unification Church’s ceremony. The Newfoundland church is half a mile away from Wallenpaupack South Elementary School.

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