I was asked to speak at a press conference in Public Square in downtown Cleveland for Demand Action to End Gun Violence on Mother’s Day weekend. This is a copy of my remarks.
Enough! Tucson, Aurora, Newtown, and closer to home. Chardon. Our Cleveland streets. It happens so often now that our grief has not run its course before the next shooting happens. Gun violence is a leading cause of death among young American men, and now we grieve even young children shooting other children. We are exhausted by the weight of living under the constant threat of gun violence to our families and communities, and especially to our children. It is easy to feel defeated and to do nothing, but we must gather our energies and use our voices to strengthen our gun safety laws. We must begin with closing the loopholes that allow criminals and the dangerously mentally ill to buy guns without undergoing background checks.
Senators Toomey and Manchin’s compromise would have required background checks for all gun sales at gun shows and online. It is so common sense that we wonder how anyone can oppose such a measure. We are suspicious and cynical when they do oppose it. This bill does not place a burden on gun sellers. It does not require background checks of sales between friends and family – people known to the seller. But sellers do not know strangers at gun shows, and we know the Internet can be used to hide a person’s true identity. This background checks bill just makes sense. It is enforceable. It will reduce crime and save lives.
It is why we are here this morning. As concerned citizens who vote. It is also Mother’s Day weekend.
I would be nowhere else. It’s my daughter’s birthday today. My daughter who will give birth to our first grandchild in just a few months. David and I are parents to five children – all grown up now. They were in school when Columbine happened, and tragic though that was, it seemed isolated and far-away from us. We could reassure our children that this did not happen at their school. They were safe. We would grieve because we are compassionate people of faith, called to love even those we will never know. But we were safe. They are grown up young adults now, and the world has changed. One of our sons lives just blocks away in the same neighborhood in Boston where there was the torrent of gunfire just weeks ago, and a campus security guard shot and killed. Our daughter recently woke to gunshots in a home invasion next door to her. Her 68 year old neighbor is dead. You never stop being a mom and worrying about your children and you pray for a safe world for your grandchildren.
But I’m not just a mom. I’m a pastor. I have buried a gun violence victim and a gun violence suicide. A young man and a young woman the age of my children. I don’t know that their families will ever recover. Their heartbreak has not eased even though time has passed.
I am the pastor of a church with a large group of junior high and high school students. Just a little over a year ago, we were all together at church on the day of the Chardon shootings. It was a Monday. Our young disciples (as we call them) came to church that day after school – all of them knew what had happened that morning. The announcement came over the loudspeakers at each of their schools. But it was personal for us because one of our families was directly affected. A Chardon high-schooler who was there in the cafeteria. A Chardon high-schooler who was grateful to be alive, who went running into the arms of her equally grateful parents who came to take her home.
It was good for our kids to be all together that afternoon. We talked about safe places. We believe church is one of those places. We don’t bully, and we don’t exclude anyone. We cried and we prayed. And not even one year later, it was Friday, Dec. 15 at Sandy Hook Elementary when it took less than 5 minutes to kill 20 little children. And so we talked with our children again and found out that same week a middle schooler was caught with a loaded gun in his locker in Euclid. Every single one of our young disciples has been on lockdown – our kids come from Chardon and Euclid and Shaker Heights and Cleveland schools. They know the threat is real. We no longer can comfort them by saying this happened far away and it will not happen to you.
Our church has declared itself a weapons free zone. Because who knows – someone could decide to bring a gun with them to worship. We will do everything we can to remain a safe place for our children and youth.
My heart bleeds for any mother – any parent – for whom Mother’s Day is a reminder of their grief in the death of family members due to gun violence. We will add more victims before the weekend is over as 33 people are murdered with guns every day in this country. I pray for the pastors who will be called to be with these families – sometimes called in to comfort entire communities. No amount of formal education and training can truly prepare us. I do not want to be that pastor, but I will do what I am called to do.
Together we must work to find a solution. Today we join our hearts and our efforts in creating Mother’s Day cards and flowers which we will use to show Senator Rob Portman that it’s time for him to stand with us. Because no mother should lose a child, and no child should lose a mother due to gun violence. We can prevent many of these deaths. Hear us, Senator Portman. This makes gun sense. It is common sense. And it is freedom. From fear. For our children and the country they will grow up in.
Rev. Kristine Eggert
May 10, 2013