Local restaurateur and gun-rights activist Bryan Crosswhite says that more people of faith throughout the country should arm themselves before heading to the pews in the wake of Wednesday’s mass shooting at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. Crosswhite’s group, 2AO (as in Second Amendment Organization), says it will offer “comprehensive gun training and safety awarness” to religious groups because, he says, any environment free of guns is a danger zone.
“Anything that is a gun-free zone is a threat to the public, to the United States,” he says. “When’s the last time you heard about a shooting at a gun shop?”
Authorities in Charleston say 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof shot and killed nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, including its pastor, in a racially motivated rampage.
Crosswhite, who owns the Cajun Experience restaurant in Leesburg, launched 2AO in 2013 and first got attention after a nearby restaurant owned by the country singer Toby Keith posted a sign asking customers to not bring in their guns. The Cajun Experience regularly hosts “Open Carry Wednesdays,” encouraging patrons to bring their firearms, in keeping with Virginia state law.
2AO, which keeps a registry of businesses that permit patrons to openly carry firearms, includes a number of churches that include undercover police officers in their congregations, but the group believes a civilian with a gun can be enough. Crosswhite echoes National Rifle Association board member Charles Cotton, who wrote Thursday that the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Emanuel AME’s pastor who was also a South Carolina state senator, “died because of his position on [gun control].” Pinckney had voted against legislation allowing South Carolina residents to carry concealed handguns.
“If he was armed and trained, I believe he would still be alive,” says Crosswhite.
Crosswhite estimates that a congregation with 200 parishoners could be protected by one person packing heat, and, he says, it’s urgent houses of worship arm themselves.
“The world is not getting safer,” he says. “We got americans going to Syria and Iraq fighting for ISIS and coming back here. Mentally ill people should not have access to guns.”
Authorities have not made any statements about whether Roof suffers from any mental illnesses. While Roof’s February arrest on a felony drug charge should have preclued him from buying a gun, authorities belive he may have received the weapon as a gift from his father, a private transfer possibly allowed by South Carolina law.
Crosswhite, who says he is a regular churchgoer, would not answer when asked if he carries a gun to services.
Clarification: A previous version of this article stated Crosswhite agrees with NRA board member Charles Cotton. 2AO says Crosswhite does not share Cotton’s belief that there is a direct link between Clementa Pinckney’s voting record and Wednesday’s shooting.