We, a sheriff and a priest, are very proud to serve our community of Butte-Silver Bow. Sadly, it has become a city notorious for a suicide rate among the highest in the state and the nation. In addition we have too many accidental deaths by an unrecognized danger. Often, these losses involve adolescents and children.
From the 911 call to the funeral and beyond we both in our different capacities observe the devastation of heartbreaks that a suicide or mortal accident causes. Both of us have been haunted by the need to do more to protect our children. “Our time has come,” Lester says, “and it is long overdue.”
The following reflects our commitment to preserve life and prevent death. We do not question the rights of anyone, nor judge an individual’s state of mind. Partisanship can stand in the way of so much progress. 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.”
It is clear that these tragedies can happen in the best of families, with the best of parents. We both perfectly understand that gun safety is just one of many elements in the puzzle of an immensely complex subject. But each element has value and this is our element. We would fail the community we serve if we did not communicate this message.
In his career Sheriff Lester describes what he and other law enforcement officers have tragically seen much 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 child to experiment with a gun only to discharge the weapon causing horrific disfigurement, a lifelong handicap, or death for themselves.
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“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 every case I have described, if the firearm involved was stored safely or secured with a gun lock, the life of the child and their family may still be normal instead of the very sad and dark place it has become.”
Last week, I, the priest, was at a little boy’s funeral to stand at the side of the family in their indescribable grief. I smiled at his little classmates to give them comfort but the whole way home I wept. The death of child is the kind of forever wounding misfortune over which we are not always 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. Enough grief!
With children around 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.”
With the support of Father Thomas Haffey and the Butte Ministerial Association, we will invite, in the near future, a minister and a police officer to address each congregation. They will make a joint appeal: “Protect your children, please safely store and lock your guns. “
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 this sheriff and this priest it is a sacred duty. We believe that there is nothing more urgent, nothing more important. In that, Lester concludes, “We can all agree.”
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.