I’m a pastor so Sunday is always a busy day. I lead worship, pray, sing, and preach twice in the morning, catch up in conversation with dozens of people, and often stay for a potluck lunch in our Fellowship Hall. This Sunday was busier than usual because after our Traditions worship came to a close, I hurried downtown to be part of an Open Carry event on Cleveland’s Public Square.
You may have heard about Open Carry events. They have been in the news lately — at Chipotle and Jack in the Box Restaurants and in the parking lots and aisles of Home Depot and Target. This was Northeast Ohio’s version billed as a protest against Cleveland’s Mayor Jackson’s proposal for stricter gun regulations. Proposals that seem common sense — and common safety in an urban area — to me. A gun registry for those convicted of gun offenses. Securing guns for kids to be safe at home. A limit on the number of guns purchased in a year’s time. But even these common sense regulations incur the ire of Open Carry folks. Hence, the rally. Downtown Cleveland on a beautiful summer Sunday afternoon. Come on down –– from all over the state of Ohio because very few if any of these gun-carrying people were Clevelanders — and by all means, bring your loaded guns.
No, I did not hurry downtown so I could carry my gun.
I went to be part of a counter-rally called Open Carry Guitar. Organizers billed the event as: Clevelanders taking to the streets of public square with their “axes” (violins, guitars, kazoos, flutes, harps, trumpets, WHATEVER) in support of music, and in opposition to open carry gun policies.
Modeled after similar rallies in Texas, this one was hastily put together and drew musicians and interested others — many of whom had never attended any other sort of anti-gun violence event before.
Unlike me — a well-seasoned veteran of ending gun violence events. Together with my husband, David Eggert, I have marched, phone-called, petition-signed, lobbied in the halls of Congress and the Ohio Legislature, protested at gun shows, blogged, boycotted, read names of gun victims, preached, presented, and prayed. I’m not new to this game.
But Sunday was the first time I was 20 feet away from perhaps as many as 40 armed men. Mostly men, but there were armed women with children as well. I will not repost photos with young children and guns in strollers and alongside them as I find them disgusting.
I’ll be honest and say that I know precious little about guns. I did not grow up with them. My ex-husband owned a hunting rifle and some sort of handgun for home protection. I was uncomfortable with both being in the house, and did I mention, he is my ex-husband. I will never own one, and if I were raising my children today, I would ask every time they went to play at someone’s house if there is a gun in the house, and if there is a gun, is it safely stored away. But I don’t have to know much about guns to know that they are killing machines — whether the target is an animal or a person.
And yet, there I was, not only standing my ground but voicing my belief that my city should not be cowed into submission and acceptance that people can just take over Public Square armed with loaded weapons. I discovered this about myself — while I am frightened of guns and what gun violence is doing to our country, I am not frightened enough to stand silently by. It’s legal to open carry and it takes absolutely not a speck of training or the regulation of a license to do so. So who knows how much that open-carry-er knows about gun safety or whether he/she could pass a background check. And me? Unarmed, but not backing away.
This is just too important. Every year, 31,000 Americans are killed by gunfire — not in wars across the ocean but here in our cities and countryside. 600 of those are children under 12 years old. Children in our country are 11 times more likely to be shot than in any other advanced nation, and there are currently no federal laws to require gun owners to safely store their guns. The children in my church have lived through Chardon — some literally as they were at Chardon High School the day T.J. Lane shot and killed 3 students and injuring others. They survived Newtown, states away, while on that same day, some of them were on school lockdown for a gun found in a locker at their middle school. They all know the drill. Shouldn’t that bother us enough to act?
On Sunday, I recognized a few of the people who were openly carrying. I remembered a previous encounter with them. It was at a small city park in Oberlin, OH. So small that only local families with young children would find it an interesting place to be. That did not stop a group of weapon-carrying out-of-towners from forcing themselves into this peaceful place on a Saturday morning. Why did they need to carry guns in a child’s park? To protect their own children, they say. What about Oberlin’s children who had their safety compromised without their consent? The families who left their park that morning in fear and disgust. As a Christian faith leader, I must advocate not just for my own children and grandchildren, or even the children I serve as pastor — but all children. I am convinced the answer for them is not more guns, nor is it about openly carrying in public places.
My gun violence activism gets alot of criticism from open carry gun people. They generally don’t like women who are involved with Moms Demand Action as I am involved. I have been the target of some very hateful misogyny that seems to come with gun violence activism. And because I’m a pastor, they also like to throw scripture back at me. My response is that I am a pastor who preaches and tries to live The Beatitudes. I follow a Jesus who said that we are called to be peacemakers and that we are to love our enemies. Nothing about that suggests arsenals of weapons openly carried in our streets.
The good news is this. The momentum is growing on the side of ending gun violence. The good news is this. Any one person can become involved. If you’re not ready to stand on a downtown corner with loaded weapons just feet away from you, you don’t have to start there. On this blog I have several links to organizations — national and local — who will gladly welcome your voice, letter-writing ability, activism experience, passion, prayer, and peace-maker’s sense of purpose.
Pastor. Parent. Activist.