Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright made national news last year when he urged all women in his county to get a permit to carry a gun after a woman was raped in a park. He said Sunday’s incident shows how citizens carrying a legal weapon can stop crimes and prevent bloodshed.
Jesse Gates had already been to Southside Freewill Baptist Church in Boiling Springs once on Sunday morning, so the pastor’s grandson was keeping his eye on the parking lot when he saw Gates come back, this time taking a shotgun out of his trunk, Wright said.
“They locked the door, and they were calling 911 at the time. He didn’t draw his weapon or make any move or action toward this gentleman until he kicked the door open and forced the issue,” Wright said.
After Gates kicked in the door, the pistol pointed at him distracted him enough that the pastor was able to grab the shotgun.
Members of the church kept him down until deputies arrived, Wright said.
South Carolina law prohibits concealed weapons permit holders from taking guns into a church without church officials’ permission. After Gates’ first appearance at the church on Sunday, the pastor’s grandson told the Herald-Journal of Spartanburg, he retrieved the gun from his car and kept it on him while he was in a recreation building separate from the sanctuary.
Gates, 38, had disrupted services before, going into the church, collapsing on the altar complaining of chest pains and demanding to see his children, who church members said don’t attend. The church called an ambulance, but Gates left without getting help, authorities said.
Gates mentioned his children again as he was being led away in handcuffs in front of the cameras of several television stations.
“I’ve been praying, begging, I’ve been to the judges, been to lawyers. I’ve called lawyers, and they won’t let me see my children,” Gates said.
Asked why he brought a gun, Gates responded, “I never aimed it at nobody. I figured maybe he would just listen.”
Investigators are still trying to determine what Gates was talking about.
“He’s claiming that he came to see his kids. Well, I’ve got a new fact and a clue for you – his kids don’t go there. So I don’t know what his intentions were other than to cause mass chaos,” Wright said.
Gates was charged with burglary, disturbing a place of worship and attempted kidnapping. Gates’ sister, 34-year-old Amanda Gates, was charged with providing her brother with the shotgun and driving him to the church. Authorities did not know if either had an attorney. Bond was denied for them Monday.
Wright said he has no problem with citizens carrying concealed weapons as long as they have a permit and act responsibly and within the law.
“I do not want you to act as a deputy sheriff. That’s not what I am asking you to do,” Wright said. “I absolutely do not want anybody to take the law into their own hands.”