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PHOTOS: No shots fired at Moonies' AR-15 ceremony

Despite local concerns, the ceremony involving the blessing of "Rods of Iron" (AR-15s) was a peaceful affair.

In the wake of a mass shooting in a Florida high school by a killer armed with a modified, rapid-fire AR-15-style rifle who killed 17 students and teachers, a religious ceremony inviting church members to bring their AR-15s drew national controversy.

But the ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pa. was a peaceful event for members of the religious sect which has been dubbed in popular media as the "Moonies," based on the name of their founder, Rev. Sun Myung Moon. (The Newfoundland church is led by Moon's son, Pastor Hyung Jin Sean Moon.) Some 250 couples with weapons were blessed during the ceremony.

Church officials told Metro that the ceremony was meant to honor the weapons as a tool of protection for good people against shootings like those which have recently happened in Florida, Las Vegas, Orlando, Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut.

“This is an excellent way to honor the memories of the 17 people who were massacred,” said Tim Elder, director of  the church. “Now more than ever, good people need to stand up and claim the tools with which we can deal with that kind of evil.”

“Contrary to what you have probably read, the Sanctuary Church in Newfoundland is not ‘blessing guns,’” Pastor Hyung Jin Sean Moon wrote in an open letter defending the ceremony from national scrutiny. “The scripture tells us that God will shepherd His children with the rod of iron, guarding the flock not as a dictator, but as a loving father. ... 98 percent of mass shootings in the last 60 years have taken place in ‘Gun Free Zones.’"
Moon continued, "The idea that passing such laws will protect our sons and daughters is a dangerous and delusional fantasy. You and I are responsible to protect our families, communities and, ultimately, our nation. The ‘rod of iron’ allows not only strong men, but also women and the elderly, to have the ability to protect themselves and others from such predators.”