This church in Pennsylvania holds a ceremony to bless guns

Eleanor Brad
The controversial church believes the AR-15 symbolizes the 'rod of iron' - Getty Images North America

Dozens of couples carrying assault rifles took part in a blessing of their weapons at a church in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania.

Members of the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, an unofficial sect of the Christian Unification movement, were invited to "show their willingness to defend their families, communities and nation".

The weapons are meant to represent the "rod of iron" referenced in the biblical Book of Revelation, which was used to control God's enemies.

The semi-automatic rifles are similar to the weapon used to kill 17 people in the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida in February 2018.

The church believes that the Florida shooting could have been prevented if the teachers were armed.

Members carry guns while some wear crowns, often made of bullets Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty

In the aftermath of the tragedy the debate over gun control raged across America, with shocked students calling for immediate action on gun control.

Despite this, the US's largest gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has hindered attempts to restrict the accessibility of firearms, using its financial and political clout.

Weapons are not loaded and the guns are secured with zip ties to stop them firing Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty

Now, two decades on from the 1999 Columbine school shooting, it is easier to purchase assault rifles after a temporary ban under the Bush administration expired.