NASHVILLE - Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is encouraging Christians to arm themselves following Thursday's mass shooting in Oregon in which the gunman reportedly singled out Christians.
But the Republican Senate speaker's call drew criticism from Tennessee Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini, who charged him with "fearmongering" and "apocalyptic delusions."
In a Facebook post Friday, Ramsey referred to a "recent spike in mass shootings across the nation" as "truly troubling."
"Whether the perpetrators are motivated by aggressive secularism, jihadist extremism or racial supremacy, their targets remain the same: Christians and defenders of the West," he wrote.
"While this is not the time for widespread panic," Ramsey added, "it is a time to prepare. I would encourage my fellow Christians who are serious about their faith to think about getting a handgun carry permit. I have always believed that it is better to have a gun and not need it than to need a gun and not have it.
"Our enemies are armed," he added. "We must do likewise."
The post included a link to a Tennessee government website describing the steps necessary to obtain a state-issued handgun permit.
According to news accounts, Chris Harper-Mercer opened fire on fellow students at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., killing nine students and wounding others before dying himself.
CNN reported the father of a wounded student saying his daughter told him Mercer singled out Christians. While reloading his handgun, the gunman ordered the students to stand up and asked if they were Christians, Anastasia Boylan told her family, CNN reported.
"And they would stand up and he said, 'Good, because you're a Christian, you're going to see God in just about one second,'" Stacy Boylan said his daughter told him.
The Los Angeles Times reported a federal law enforcement source said authorities obtained some of Harper-Mercer's writings, as well as a note he left behind, suggesting he supported white-supremacist causes and opposed organized religion.
Responding to Ramsey's Facebook post, Mancini said in an email that "rather than address the fear mongering apocalyptic delusions of the Lt. Gov, I'd like to appeal to Tennesseans who are using their guns properly and safely - please think about whether your views are actually represented by politicians like Ron Ramsey. If not, it's time to do something about it."
But Ramsey found support from a colleague, Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, who praised his comments in a Twitter post.
"#Amen Every Law abiding citizen should consider being trained to provide for their self-defense #OunceOfPrevention," his post said. It triggered several hours of fierce Twitter exchanges between critics and supporters.
Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, said in a statement that Ramsey's comments "reek of fear mongering and religious crusading."
Rather than leading bipartisan efforts to keep guns away from criminals and the mentally ill, Clemmons said, "Senator Ramsey unfortunately chose the road most traveled by the radical right."
"There is an eerie absence of logic in his statement that ties one's Christian faith to firearms ownership that is so offensive to all religions," Clemmons went on. "Senator Ramsey is essentially saying that we should all run out and get a handgun carry permit to prove how serious we are about our Christian faith.
"Things have never ended well when any leader has asked people to take up arms in the name of their religious faith."
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com, 615-255-0550 or via Twitter @AndySher1.