On February 27, 2012, at 7:30am, one child killed three children and wounded three more in their school cafeteria. He did it with his grandparents' 22-caliber handgun. That's right. Three more children are dead and three more wounded in Chardon, Ohio.
Six families sent their precious children to school on a Monday morning. Another family sent their precious and handgun-armed child to school as well. The three dead were killed by ten shots fired directly at them as they sat together at a table. The 17-year-old shooter says he was not aiming at anyone in particular. He just fired ten shots. He is now in custody, and may never see the outside of a jail cell the rest of his life. That will be a long time unless he is put to death as an adult.
I am a father of four and a pastor of hundreds of children. Every weekday, my children and the church's children go to school. They get up early and travel by foot, bus, and car to learn and to grow in wisdom and understanding. They go from class to class, listening and learning. They come home, study hard, go to sleep, and get up to do this again.
My wife and I do not own or carry guns. We never have. We never will. To imagine other children in the schools of our lives so wounded by this world that they would find, load, conceal, carry, pull out, and open fire on the children around them is inconceivable to me. It was also inconceivable to the parents of Daniel Parmertor, Russell King Jr., and Demetrius Hewlin. These three were like my children and the children of my church. They got up and went to school every day. Now they are dead and buried in the earth instead of enjoying summer break with their friends and families.
At the time of the Chardon shootings, Rev. Christopher McCreight, Pastor at Pilgrim Christian Church in Chardon, Ohio, wrote to pastors around the country offering a heartfelt appeal to our children's ministries and youth groups. He asked if we would be willing to not only say a prayer for the children of Chardon, Ohio, but if our children could write a prayer, or a card, make a drawing, or anything that represented a creation of their Love and Compassion and then send it on to the kids at his church.
We responded by sending hundreds of letters, cards, and drawings. Pastor McCreight wrote back, "Just reading your words has reminded me of the beauty of the Body of Christ. Our kids are healing through the love, grace, and unity we feel with the Body of Christ. Thank you."
Sadly, Ohio legislators have responded to three teens being killed in one of our public high schools by creating new gun laws that allow for carrying weapons into public places including churches, mosques and synagogues.
As a religious leader in Ohio, I believe our motto, "with God all things are possible," includes the possibility of controlling the sale of handguns and weapons in our state. No one needs to have a gun in church. No one needs to have a gun in school. When I pass the peace of Christ which passes all human understanding, I don't need to wonder why my brother or sister in Christ is "packing."
In a nation where the number of preschoolers killed by guns in 2008 (88) and in 2009 (85) was nearly double the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in 2008 (41) and 2009 (48), we don't need to arm more people and allow for more freedom to carry individual weapons of mass destruction.
I am aware that the social cost to us as Americans is great as well.
In the emergency rooms of our area hospitals, the cost of caring for those wounded by gun violence continues to rise each day. That cost is passed on to all citizens of our state who pay for rising costs of medical insurance. In addition, the cost in the legal system, the prison system and our educational system which pays to protect us against our own escalating gun violence is crippling our economy.
The only place that benefits from guns being purchased and used is the gun industry itself.
As Christians, we are followers of Jesus. As Dominicans, we are an order of preachers called to preach the Gospel with a Holy Fire.
So let us follow Jesus and preach with a Holy Fire against the carrying and firing of guns all around us.
When Jesus' disciple, Peter, struck the slave Malchus with a sword slicing off his ear in self-defense, Jesus said, "Put your sword back in its sheath" (John 18:10-11a). Let us join with our Lord, and say together, "Sheath your weapons." In memory of Russell, Demetrius and Daniel…and Jesus, stop the shooting.
To end gun violence we need to begin immediately. Wherever there are legislators making it easier to buy and sell guns, we must oppose these efforts. We must offer legislation which ends the easy purchase, sale and use of handguns and automatic weapons.
Our children and the children of our churches are watching us and hoping and praying they are safe to enter our churches and our schools and grow in faith, wisdom, and understanding of God and life.
We all agree that children killing children must end. Let's do our part to see this happens.