With More Children in Peril, a Call to Unarm

The pulpit pushes gun regulations in Chicago as deaths of youth increase.

July 19, 2009, 6:11 PM

CHICAGO, July 19, 2009— -- Chastity Turner, 9, was bathing the family dog on her grandmother's porch at the end of June. it was the beginning of summer in Chicago. There was sunshine, a garden hose and drool. Then gun shots.

"I've learned that life is short," says Chastity's cousin, Chante Moffett.

Life was much too short for Chastity, ending that day when a bullet pierced the back of her neck, the result of a gang shooting from a moving van. She became one of 40 Chicago school children gunned down this year, but sadly not the latest. Two teen boys were shot Friday evening near St. Sabina Catholic Church, one has been released from the hospital while the other remains in stable condition.

"How many children have to die?" asks Rev. Michael Pfleger, a gun activist and the St. Sabina priest. "How many children have to die before we say, we've got to do something? Everybody waits until it's your child."

In the first six months of this year, 199 murders occurred in the streets of Chicago, more American fatalities than in either Afghanistan or Iraq for that period. President Barack Obama has yet to speak about gun regulation and congress is not set to consider gun legislation anytime soon, so the pulpit is taking action.

Pfleger is taking aim against gun violence and using the church to do so. He is flying the flag outside his parish upside down, a sign of distress used only in extreme emergencies. He says the city of Chicago is in just such an emergency.

"It's an epidemic," says Pfleger. "I've had four funerals of young children so far this year. A 13-year-old going to the store, a 15-year-old killed on a bus. All gun [crimes]."

Some say Pfleger is abusing a national symbol by using the flag to draw attention to gun crimes. But to Pfleger, the flag means nothing compared with the pain he sees in countless grieving parents.

"Some of them use every bit of energy they have to get up in the morning," he says. "Everyday they're fighting to continue on remembering their child's face lying in a casket. Nobody should have to deal with that in a civilized country."

Pfleger knows this firsthand. One of the children Pfleger buried was his own, a 17-year-old foster son named Jarvis.

"It's the only thing in my life that paralyzed me," he says. "I didn't know if I was going to be able to go on with ministry."

But instead, Pfleger's spirit was strengthened. He is now calling for Washington to hold a national summit against gun violence and thinks it should be in Chicago, the president's hometown. He also hopes for stricter gun licensing and mandatory classes on conflict resolution throughout the schooling system.

Pfleger is not alone. Rev. Marcia Dyson fasted for 20 days this year to draw attention to gun crimes in Chicago. Whether getting attention through the flag or through food, both are trying to stop gun crimes through the church.

"There are some hopes," Dyson told NPR in an interview last month. "Our churches are supposed to be a light."

But the church itself is divided. In a piece on ABCNews.com Saturday, we featured Rev. Ken Pagano, who held a pro-gun rally in his Louisville, Ky., church that invited parishioners to come to the sanctuary with unloaded weapons. Pfleger finds it "sick" that a minister would promote guns as a solution to a problem.

"We can't gun our way out of violence," Pfleger says. "We can't gun our way out of fear. As a minister, I thought we teach that God is our protector."

But what about self defense asks critics? Pfleger believes that self defense shouldn't come through more guns but instead through a stronger community.

"Parents, educators, churches, mosques, police – everybody has a part in ending this."

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