Powerful lawyers sue NY to allow guns in churches – Raw Story

Second Amendment

Albany NY

Danger erupted at the exact moment the pastor was rejoicing over how beautiful his historic church looked that Easter. The congregation was founded in the 19th century in Albany by Black New Yorkers, some of whom escaped from Southern plantations. That Easter, sunlight spilled through the stained glass windows’ jewel-like colors. The sanctuary was adorned with bouquets from backyard gardens: blue hydrangea, ivory roses, golden forsythia, and purple wisteria. The floral scent mingled with the cinnamon, coffee, and vanilla aromas wafting from the foyer where the 200 worshippers would mingle and discuss social justice projects. The children’s chorus sang “God is in Control.”

Then, a sweaty man with disheveled hair and a wild stare stumbled in, clad in a filthy coat. He stood behind the pews clutching a battered backpack, murmuring. He wasn’t praying.

He was repeating one word, “Demons.”

The pastor felt sure the guy had a gun–and desperately wished he had his own Berretta APX on his hip under his black robe.

Three deacons edged close to the stranger. He screamed at them, “Get away, demons!”.

They flung their arms around him and hustled him out. The backpack contained wads of t-shirts and a screwdriver. The deacons called 911 and gave the man cinnamon rolls and coffee to go. The pastor confided to church elders that he was not skilled enough shot to shoot an armed sociopath without accidentally injuring congregants. Understandably, the elders don’t want him packing heat in the pulpit. But the FBI estimates 2,183 deadly force attacks on houses of worship between 1999 and 2019 so a safety plan is a necessity. New York’s recent legislation bans guns from “sensitive places.” But lawsuits from two Black evangelical pastors, a white evangelical pastor, and a synagogue leader aim to remove that ban. The plaintiffs want to take their handguns to prayer. They’re represented by powerful law firms with dazzling GOP connections.

The lawsuits coincide with Republican efforts to attract Black voters, 81 percent of whom rank crime as their most urgent issue according to Pew Research last year.

The LA Times noted that Pennsylvania, New York, and Wisconsin midterm races “narrowed after Republicans spent tens of millions of dollars on ads that claim violent crime is on the rise and blame the problem on Democrats.” Political analysts thought Lee Zeldin might become New York’s first GOP governor in 20 years with his message that violent crime taints all aspects of an ordinary citizen’s life, from doing his job safely to getting his kids to and from school. That message still resonates in upstate New York where innocent bystanders killed in gunfire are often children. Last week, Syracuse honors student and 5th-grade class president Brexialee Torres-Ortiz, 11, was killed by a drive-by shooter as she walked home from the corner grocery milk.

But politicizing access to guns to appeal to Black Americans, who are statistically more likely to be killed by guns, may be complicated by the National Rifle Association’s increasingly extremist positions and financial scandals. For now, the NRA often wins court battles largely thanks to gifted litigators from legendary law firms. That’s a different battleground than a political campaign.


Two Black pastors in high-crime Buffalo and Niagara Falls neighborhoods are represented by Cooper & Kirk, a law firm for its famous Republican clients: Ted Cruz, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Josh Hawley, John Bolton, and Jeff Sessions.

Gun regulation isn’t Cooper & Kirk’s sole GOP culture war battleground. Cooper & Kirk earned $5.9 million fighting DeSantis culture wars since he retained the firm for Florida in 2019. (The Miami Herald reports that Cooper & Kirk handled legal wrangling spawned by the Stop W.O.K.E. Act often known as Don’t Say Gay legislation, efforts to block felons from voting, and state opposition to vaccination requirements). https://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article270314922.html

It’s unclear how the pastors crossed and the extremely expensive lawyers met. The ministers did not respond to interview requests. Their legal team includes Cooper & Kirk managing partner and Harvard magna cum laude alum David Thompson. He declined an interview request, citing a heavy workload. He added that Raw Story’s questions about how the pastors met Cooper’s attorneys, whether the case was pro bono and whether other pastors were being solicited to join the lawsuit “implicate privileged issues.”
The Second Amendment Foundation, which reaped $7.4 in donations according to a recent 990 tax form, is also a plaintiff alongside the pastors. https://www.ag.ky.gov/Resources/Consumer-Resources…

Brady United is named for Reagan press secretary Jim Brady, who was severely wounded during the attempted assassination of the president. Brady United, like its namesake, advocates universal background checks and red flag regulations. Brady United lawyer Shira Feldman has followed Cooper & Kirk’s Second Amendment courtroom battles. She explains how such a firm can afford to take on pro bono cases like this one.

“If a law firm representing the gun industry sues a state or city and wins, they could be eligible for attorneys’ fees paid by the state or city,” Feldman told Raw Story. “Litigation can be long and expensive, and municipal budgets are often very limited. Fortunately, this hasn’t discouraged cities and towns from continuing to pass and defend important life-saving gun laws that keep our communities safe.”

The pastors name city and state officials as defendants.

The complaint reminds the court of the tragic 2015 Charleston, South Carolina murders of nine Black worshipers, including the pastor, shot by a white supremacist as they attended Bible study in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. But the complaint’s focus is the dangers the two pastors confront now.


Jimmie Hardaway, Jr. is the minister of Trinity Baptist Church located in Niagara Falls’ Gluck Park neighborhood. In 2017, Boys and Girls Club volunteers cleared the park of rubbish, installed playground equipment, and painted a small stage for concerts. The park has hosted neighborhood block parties, children’s softball, picnics, and fun fairs. But now residents say that when night falls, gang members gather there, fistfights escalate into gunfire, and a youth was recently stabbed in an argument over a game of dice.

“Rev. Hardaway carries (a gun) both for self-defense and because he feels a unique obligation to his congregants as Pastor to be prepared in case of confrontation,” the complaint says.


Rev. Larry Boyd’s Open Praise Full Gospel Baptist Church is in Buffalo’s historic Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood on the city’s East Side. The neighborhood tourism site lists beautiful churches, plus shops and restaurants with Polish, Vietnamese, Bangladeshi, and soul food cuisine. Broadway-Fillmore feels like a neighborhood with friendly residents who chat with strangers and suggest fun places to visit. The neighborhood recently won $10 million in state grants to add street lighting and create a new park and farmer’s market. But gun violence looms over East Buffalo, where a white supremacist gunman murdered ten Black residents in a Tops grocery store last year. The complaint says that Boyd and other Open Praise congregants carried concealed firearms into Sunday worship as protection from violent confrontations. The complaint adds, “Open Praise is in a neighborhood that has struggled with crime, violence, and gang-related issues.”

There is a separate pastor’s lawsuit involving white evangelicals in the low-crime village of Horseheads, N.Y., targeting the church gun ban that also deploys a law firm with powerful GOP connections. The plaintiff is pastor Michael Spencer of His Family Tabernacle. In an interview with Charisma News, an online far-right and pro-Trump religious magazine, that he had gotten death threats, Spencer said he fears attacks on his congregation by “lunatics, whether they be demon-possessed, whether they just be individuals that are God-haters.” https://firstliberty.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/His-Tabernacle-Complaint.pdf

Five lawyers from Texas-based First Liberty Institute lawyers represent Spencer. First Liberty CEO Kelly Shackelford and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have been friends for 30 years. The Associated Press reports that “when Paxton took office in 2015, some of his first, and most prominent hires were attorneys from First Liberty.” The institute fights many cultural wars, including the was the baker who wouldn’t make wedding cakes for same-sex couples. Former Pres. Donald Trump. is its most famous client. Liberty attorneys were on his 2016 White House transitional legal team.https://apnews.com/article/donald-trump-us-news-ap-top-news-courts-politics-b0ccddbdafca41b7b4ab159718b70ec

Spencer is also represented by President George W. Bush’s U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, a member of an elite, brilliant, tiny handful of lawyers who have each argued over 100 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. The New York Times called him a “rock star” among oil and gas industry lawyers battling environmentalists. But some of his admiring colleagues confided to Raw Story that they were baffled by his obsessive championship of the National Rifle Association. Clement did not respond to requests for an interview. But several Washington, D.C. litigators and longtime admirers of Clement’s intellect told Raw Story they were baffled by his unswerving devotion to the NRA.

That devotion exploded into a battle with his law firm on the same day Clement won a landmark Supreme Court case for an NRA affiliate in June. Just hours after SCOTUS announced Clement’s June victory over New York gun permit regulations, Clement’s employer, Kirkland & Ellis, announced it would never take another Second Amendment case. Clement and Kirkland SCOTUS litigator Kim Murphy fired back, announcing their resignations to found their own law firm.

“Anyone who knows us and our views regarding professional responsibility and client loyalty know there was only one course open to us,” said Clement’s announcement, adding that he would stick with NRA clients despite its controversial reputation.

But even conservative white-shoe law firms will confide their concerns about NRA extremism and financial scandals. The Clement-Kirkland clash came within weeks of the Uvalde massacre when a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers. A white supremacist gunned down ten Black shoppers and staffers in a Buffalo grocery days earlier. But Clement is a culture war veteran.

He left King & Spalding in 2011 after the firm felt uneasy with his work on behalf of the Defense of Marriage Act, which doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages as valid. Demand for his talent continued.


Paul Lake grew up in rural Alabama with a family who enjoyed hunting and taught him to handle guns safely and confidently. His state trooper brother inspired him to become a policeman and volunteer EMT. As mass shootings became more common in America, he got his pastor’s permission to train a volunteer safety team in his church. There was soon such demand for his expertise, that he left a job in the corporate world to found Sentry One Consulting in Fort Worth, Texas whose clients range from congregations of about 200 to megachurches with 15,000 members across the Midwest and South.

“It’s a sad commentary on our world that there was enough work to keep my company busy,” Lake told Raw Story.

Although Lake has advised lawmakers on legislation that makes the permitting process more accessible and easier to understand, he doesn’t believe everyone can handle a gun, “not even in the Wild West.”

Even if a pastor is a gifted marksman, Lake advises against him being armed in the pulpit.

“Most congregations would want their pastor focused on his message and his role of comforting and guiding his congregation,” Lake explains.

“The only thing you know about guns is which end to point at the bad guy, you aren’t going to be able to help a church safety team,” explained Lake, a strong advocate of gun safety training and shooting practice.

Lake and his Sentry One employees test church safety teams by timing them. If the volunteers can’t clear their guns from their holsters and jackets, unlock the safety and shoot accurately in less than 2 seconds. (The Guinness Book of World Records says the world’s fastest gunslinger, Californian Bob Munden, could clear his Colt .45, shoot a target, and return his gun to his holster in .0175 seconds.) If a worshipper can’t pass that test, Sentry One urges him not to carry a gun into a church. Instead, take an unarmed protective role.

Lake has studied heartbreaking security camera video of a deadly 2019 suburban Fort Worth church shooting. An armed security team volunteer sits three rows behind a disheveled man who stands up to ask the unarmed usher a question. The stranger then pulls a sawed-off shotgun from his coat and kills the security guard before he can un-holster his gun. The gunman then kills the stunned usher. It happens in less than six seconds. By then, a safety team member moves into position and kills the gunman.

Ideally, Lake would like houses of worship to hire off-duty police for security. But that’s financially impossible for some. So, Lake wants churchgoers to know how to stop a menacing person before he gets inside the sanctuary. Lake trains safety teams to communicate with each other via walkie-talkies or a phone app. He teaches volunteers directing traffic in the parking lot, front door greeters, and sanctuary ushers to spot people behaving erratically or angrily or strangers who insist on carrying backpacks into churches or wearing long, baggy coats in hot weather. Whoever first spots danger should warn the rest of the team.

And he urges trainees to remember their roles as “ambassadors” of their faith when they approach the disoriented or menacing.

“A greeter could say to the stranger, “Brother, it looks as if something is troubling you or weighing on your heart” and invite him to sit and talk or pray,” Lake says, adding that churchgoers should not hesitate to call 911 for backup.

Technology has made precautions like locking doors and windows problematic protection. A client phoned Lake one weekday to tell him the church secretary had gotten a call from a disgruntled congregant en route to the church. Lake yelled into the phone, telling the secretary to flee the church. Luckily, she left before the irate man arrived wielding an 8-pound sledgehammer. He used his tech skills to unlock the doors and enter the church.

A pastor can offer some protection to his flock by being aware of who is troubled and the triggers they may be encountering. whether it’s “job loss, a letter from the IRS. divorce papers arriving or an imbalance of medications.”


New York State Jewish Gun Club owner Tzvi Waldman is also suing the state over the ban on guns in houses of worship. He lives in a Rockland County Hasidic community who do not use phones or drive cars on the Sabbath. Some members must walk through neighborhoods plagued by street crime to worship. Growing up, he listened to his grandmother’s stories of surviving the Holocaust, which gave violent anti-Semitic attacks on American soil a keen personal edge. He founded the gun club to help Jews learn to defend themselves by learning how to use guns safely. Because so many gun classes were held on Saturdays, his club offered training on days other than the Jewish Sabbath.

After the fatal Tree of Life synagogue shooting, he was inundated with pleas for advice from synagogues all over the northeast. When Raw Story asked his opinion of modest gun regulations like prohibiting convicted domestic abusers from buying guns, he said that he worries that government officials could “warp” gun laws to oppress the marginalized the way the 1930s “Nazis used laws on the books for their purposes.”

But when asked if he is equating those who favor gun regulation with Nazis, he replied emphatically: “No.”

“And we don’t want to train to be a militia or hate the government,” Waldman told Raw Story. He knows that the Second Amendment has been politicized but he would like gun violence against houses of worship to be a bipartisan and interfaith issue.

Like Lake, he would like churches, synagogues, and mosques to share information on attacks against religious communities and discuss possible responses. Waldman has talked with many U.S. military veterans and read combat memoirs. He agrees with Lake that taking a gun into a house of worship is not a good idea for everyone.

“I tell people to think about whether they can pull a trigger even if it’s to shoot a person trying to attack them,” Waldman said. “Military men and women live in a universe that’s different from ours where they have to be ready to take a life to save others at any moment. Not everyone can put themselves in the combat mindset especially if they’re in what they think of as a haven, a place of prayer.”

His gun club and Lake’s consulting firm both include first aid lessons in their training.

“If you learn how to take a life, you should also learn how to save a life,” Waldman says.

The beautiful Mishnah Sanhedrin teaches, “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. that to destroy a life is the same as obliterating a world,” Waldman believes the Jewish teachings just as Lake believes a Christian worshipper has to be an ambassador to the lost and sick. They will never take killing lightly, even to protect the innocent.

Republicans invoke Second Amendment threats to galvanize their white evangelical base. But a 2020 Everytown for Gun Safety/ Higher Heights for America/ Global Strategy Group survey holds clues to whether that strategy will lure Black voters.

Over 1,000 Black registered voters told surveyors that gun violence was a top priority.

But 96 percent wanted a candidate who supports background checks for all gun sales, a position the GOP base emphatically opposes. And 93 percent support disarming domestic abusers and red flag laws.https://www.everytown.org/press/new-everytown-higher-heights-survey-of-black-voters-finds-gun-safety-police-accountability-and-criminal-justice-reform-are-top-issues-in-2020/
So, for Black Christians, easier access to firearms may seem like part of the gun violence problem rather than a gun rights triumph for Black evangelicals. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to tackle this case so, for the moment, the prohibitions against guns in houses of worship can be enforced. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito added that the dispute “presents novel and serious questions.”

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