MILFORD - A woman who identified herself as Nancy Showmaker stood before the Pike County Commissioners at their meeting on February 28, asking the commissioners for a response to a letter written and submitted prior to the meeting by Sally Schwartz of Hemlock Farms. Ms. Schwartz was not in attendance at the meeting.

The News Eagle had received electronic correspondence on the letterhead of the newly organized Delaware Valley Democratic Club outlining actions the organization was taking in response to an event that was held at the Best Western Inn at Matamoras, PA on Feb. 24 billed as a “Thank You to Donald Trump,” sponsored by Kook Jin (Justin) Moon’s company, Kahr Arms,  the “Rod of Iron Ministries” and their leader, Justin Moon’s brother, Rev. Hyung Jin (Sean) Moon and The Independent Gazette.

Also listed was a church service glorifying the AR-15 rifle being held simultaneously with the commissioners meeting in Newfoundland, PA at the Sanctuary Church “World Peace & Unification Sanctuary Inc.), associated with “Rod of Iron Ministries” and located just down the road from Wallenpaupack South Elementary School.

There was no mention from any of the public speakers with affiliation either to this organization or the Pike County Democratic Committee.

Free speech

Commissioner Matt Osterberg, who is not a gun owner, stated that the event at the Best Western was organized and conducted as a matter of free speech and also questioned the term “hate group” as used in context with the Sanctuary Church referring that the Catholic Church has at times also been referred to as a hate group. As far as school safety goes, Osterberg said, “That is not something the County Commissioners…that’s more the school district.” The county is working with the schools to try and alleviate risky behavior.”

Osterberg, when asked if he had looked at the church organization’s website, said “I don’t adhere to worshiping guns.”

Ms. Showmaker pressed the commissioners to go public denouncing the recent events and pleaded to hear from Democratic minority Commissioner Steve Guccini for his views. Guccini deferred to Republican Commissioner Rich Caridi to go first as he has adopted a position to commenting last on issues because he is the junior commissioner.

Not a “hate event”

Caridi stated the event at the Best Western was not a “hate event,” but rather an opportunity to hear Larry Pratt, President of Gun Owners of America, give his keynote speech which detailed an explanation of the 2nd amendment. Caridi explained, “There was no discussion about religion, church, hate, none of that.”

He went on to explain that the prize drawing for the $700 gift certificate at Kahr arms could be used to purchase anything in the store, noting that there are many items for outdoor use including clothing, backpacks, sunglasses, etc.

Ms. Showmaker wanted to discuss the church with the Commissioners but Caridi said he could not comment because he doesn’t participate or know anything about it. The Commissioner’s solicitor, Tom Farley, jumped into the conversation reminding all in attendance of the separation of church and state and Caridi said he had nothing more to discuss.

“Death of moderation”

Commissioner Steve Guccini began his response by saying “There is a basic lack of understanding of our citizenry, in general, of what it is our government does and doesn’t do at every level.” The commissioners’ level of authority is very limited on these specific issues.

Guccini says there has been conversation between himself and the other commissioners and he acknowledged that there was some disagreement on the issues but also some agreement.

Guccini continued, “The fringes have taken over the discussion and the reason we are where we are today is because of the death of moderation.” 

He said he thinks there are legitimate ways to address the gun issue that have nothing to do with politics or personal philosophy. “There are ways to look at restricting certain types of weapons, restricting certain kinds people for getting certain type of weapons,” saying some of these concepts were things that he perceived to be in agreement with his cohorts. Guccini continued saying that money being contributed to both political parties plays a large part, noting the correlation of drug companies contributions to politicians and the huge increase in opioid addiction.

Guccini stated he lives near the church in Newfoundland and he is troubled by the current events. He stated he as seen the website and believes it to be problematic. His opinion about the church is that there is a line between religious beliefs that remain in the church community and those that cross over into the civic community.

“It’s one thing to have those religious beliefs, and to have them, whether I agree with them or disagree with them, I would be the first one to support the ability to keep and retain those religious beliefs. But, when you cross the line when carry them out into the civic community and say that you really have to be concerned about the government infocating those beliefs into society and about the school district infocating those beliefs into society and in order to do that you better arm yourself for when that day comes, I find that troubling.”

Guccini thinks that the fact that this is a Christian religion has kept the public outcry smaller than it could have been if it were a non-Christian religion.

Overdose deaths

Guccini was asked to speak at the vigil being held at the steps at the court house later in the day and urged all to keep politics to a minimum and focus on the remembrance of those involved in the Florida school tragedy.

Commissioner Osterberg was in Florida when the shooting occurred and he called Pennsylvania’s US Senator Toomey’s office to see if they were going to re-introduce legislation requiring strengthening existing background checks and was assured that it would happen. Osterberg also pointed out that this discussion is an ongoing one between the commissioners. He also stated that last year there were 17 overdose deaths in the county, coincidentally, the same number of fatalities as in the Parkland, FLA shooting and that he is just as committed to finding a solution to this problem plaguing communities all across the country as well in our own community. 65,000 people die across the country each year from overdoses.

Reggie Cheong-Leen urged the commissioners to view the issue as a public safety issue and Commissioner Caridi agreed that it was.

Caridi acknowledged that he is a gun owner who enjoys recreational shooting on a regular basis. He also stated that he had been in contact with the Sheriff’s Office and that a deputy was sent to help the Wallenpaupack Area School District.

Additionally, he has been in contact with the lieutenant at the Blooming Grove Barracks of the PA State Police furnishing him with the names and contact information of those associated with the church event so they could help with keeping everyone safe.

Caridi reiterated that the Wallenpaupack Area School District made the decision to transfer classes to another building.

Kahr Arms

Margaret Whitney asked for background information about how Kahr Arms came to Pike County. Commissioner Caridi responded that the Sanctuary Church was already in existence way before the sale of the business park property. Back in the 1980’s the business park was established by the county as a means to draw business to the county; however, the demand for occupancy never materialized.

Thus, the property became a burden to the county. When Kahr Arms approached the county to purchase the property, the county found the buyers to be a legitimate company complying to all local, state, and federal laws, putting the property back on the tax rolls and eliminating a $1 million dollar county debt.

According to Solicitor Farley, the county had no knowledge of the association between Kahr Arms and the “Rod of Iron Ministries” church when the business park deal was completed. If there are any improprieties concerning the operation of Kahr Arms the issues would need to go before Blooming Grove Township’s Zoning Board. The county does not trump township regulations.

In closing, Commissioner Caridi thanked all for engaging in a civil discussion of these important issues and received a round of applause from those in attendance. The commissioners all agreed to stand together against hate not only in the midst of Pike County, but around the world.

Editor’s Note: In a statement released to the press, Rev. Hyung Jin (Sean) Moon stated that their church is not “blessing guns” or worshipping the “Rod of Iron.” Rather, the special ceremony held February 28 was for married couples to rededicate their marriages. He explained that the presence of the unloaded semi-automatic firearms, which the couples were asked to bring to the ceremony, were meant as a symbol of the “Rod of Iron” referred to in scripture. The guns were a pledge to defend themselves, their family, community and the Kingdom of God, as allowed under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, he explained.