'We are heavily armed,' Tampa church warns

- They're armed and ready.  We're not talking about the police, the military, or a security contractor. We are talking about The River at Tampa Bay, a church in east Tampa.

That’s what a sign on their door declares. And the picture has gone viral. 

It makes very clear; this is not a gun free-zone. They say there are people inside who are armed and capable of taking down a mass shooter.

"We are heavily armed, and any attempt will be dealt with -- with deadly force," warned Pastor Allen Hawes.

Services are beamed live and worldwide from their made-for-TV sanctuary that seats over 1,000. When they saw images of the massacre at the church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, they posted a photo of their sign, which had been up for over a year.

"If you think you are going to come here and do that, this is a deterrent for you because it is everywhere, it's not like we hide these signs. They're big signs, and it's going to tell these people, we will protect our people,” Pastor Hawes continued.

They insist they're fulfilling a biblical teaching to look after those in their care, despite negative social media feedback like one comment that reads, "Just like Jesus would have done, Peter, put away your sword, pull out your gun." 

Those armed during their services could include parishioners with concealed-carry permits, private plainclothes guards, or uniformed deputies they hire. 

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"I believe, if you look at the teachings of Jesus, Matthew, and different places in the scriptures, we see it will get increasingly darker -- wars, rumors of wars, and people with not good intentions are going to look for a way to make a statement,” Hawes offered.

As the political debate rages over whether more guns make things safer, they admit the message on their front door is harsh. But they say everyone needs to face the reality that mass shootings can happen, even pointing to the shootings in Seminole Heights as proof that there is a local threat of violence.

"Would I rather ruffle a few feathers,” Pastor Hawes asked, “or do I want to count bodies?"

RELATED: Sign of the times: Churches hire security

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