Ed Lester and I live in Butte, Montana. He is the Sheriff, I am one of the priests. We serve this community surrounded by serene mountain landscape. It is formed by a history that is even richer and more colorful than the copper and silver deposits from which it rose. Sadly, Butte has a suicide rate among the highest in the nation. We also see, too often, accidental deaths. Some of these tragedies involve adolescents and children.
From the 911 call to the funeral and far beyond we, in our different capacities, observe the devastation of heartbreaks that a suicide or accidental death can cause. Both of us have been haunted by the need to do more to protect children. "Our time has come, Lester says, and it is long overdue."
Our appeal is universal because the loss of a child is the business of all. Sheriff Lester writes: "No! This is not about gun control. That makes it too easy to become preoccupied with one side or the other. It's easy to lash out at the gun lobby on one side or the politicians we feel want to restrict our gun rights on the other. We can't get caught up in politics. There is too much at stake."
If children have any access, the Sheriff continues, "The solution is simple...every single gun, in every single house, in every single city, needs to be secured.... We can do so much better than we do now."
It is the experience of both of us that these tragedies can happen within loving and supportive families. It is perfectly clear that gun safety is just one of many elements in the puzzle of an immensely complex subject. But it is our element and we would fail the community we serve if we failed to communicate its significance.
In the context of his career Sheriff Lester gives an account of what he and other law enforcement officers have tragically seen too often: "Most of the time it is an accident where curiosity leads to an incident that the child did not expect to happen, but will happen again a million times in the mind of the poor child who has inadvertently killed his sibling or friend in one horrifying and often gruesome instant.
Sometimes it's the same innocent curiosity that leads a children to experiment with a gun only to discharge the weapon causing horrific disfigurement, lifelong handicap, or death for themselves.
Sometimes it's a child who is not even capable of comprehending what suicide means, yet with a gun, he or she can easily complete the act with startling, frightening, and hideous efficiency.
In each of these cases, if the firearm involved was stored safely or secured with a gun lock, the life of the child would have been spared and the family would not be in a very sad and dark place."
Only last week I, the priest, was at a little boy's funeral to stand at the side of his family in their indescribable grief. I smiled at his classmates to give them some comfort but, once alone, I cried. This is the kind of forever wounding misfortune over which we are not powerless. As a gesture of respect for the precious angels we mourn, as an expression of love for their families we want to shelter others.
Both of us are passionate about this painful subject. Enough grief!!
We are grateful to have received the support of Clergy and Law Enforcement and many in our community. We will invite a minister and a police officer to address each congregation with a joint appeal: "Protect children, please lock your guns. "
We hope that it can be repeated in other communities, comparable to ours, by other Sheriffs and priests, police chiefs and ministers. They will put their own mark on the effort, craft their own message and prevent more tragedies.
Saving only one child's life has infinite value. It is the reward of a lifetime. Together, with your support and with the help of others who have dedicated their lives to this cause, we will save many, so help us God. There is no more beautiful and noble goal. For Sheriff Lester and me it is a sacred duty. We believe that there is nothing more urgent, nothing more important. In that, Lester concludes," We can all agree."
Note: Ed Lester is Sheriff of Butte-Silver Bow County. Patrick Beretta is parish priest at St Patrick and Immaculate Conception churches and Chaplain at St James Healthcare, Butte Central Catholic Schools and Montana Tech.