Do you remember Fr. Michael Pfleger, that feisty and controversial Chicago priest who befriended controversial African-American activists such as Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan? Father Pfleger has been a lightning rod for controversy: He encouraged his parishioners at St. Sabina to buy time from prostitutes and to use the time to invite the women to counseling and job training. He posted billboards in Chicago, urging people not to listen to rap music. He invited pro-abortion politician Al Sharpton to speak at a Catholic Mass, and he spoke out in favor of women’s ordination.
In 2011, Fr. Pfleger was temporarily suspended from priestly ministry for refusing a transfer to a new parish, claiming that he would rather leave the Church than take the direction of Cardinal George in accepting his new assignment.
Now, though, he’s turned his attention to guns. Not gun violence (although street violence on Chicago’s South Side has been a concern of his in the past). This time, he’s riled up about toy guns—specifically, toy guns packed inside Easter baskets. Father Pfleger has called for a boycott against K-Mart for carrying pre-packaged Easter baskets which contain toy guns. Toy guns, he asserts, lead to violence.
In a March 9 letter in the Chicago Sun-Times, Fr. Pfleger wrote, “I am writing to express my concern and outrage that Kmart is selling Easter baskets, which are obviously for children, with toy guns in them…. With the increasing gun violence in Chicago and across the country, I am amazed that you would choose to offer toy guns to our children to make them comfortable with playing with them.”
Kmart is not the only retailer to offer them pre-packaged in Easter baskets; other sellers include Meijer, Toys R Us, Walgreen’s and Walmart. And the guns, I should note, are not realistically styled guns. They’re plastic water guns or Nerf dart shooters.
So here’s the question: Do you believe that boys who play with toy guns when they’re little will grow up to be bank robbers, to shoot unarmed store clerks in the back, to knock off their barber over a bad haircut?
It’s a serious question. I was conflicted about it as a young mother, since I had friends on both sides of the “guns/no guns” debate. In the end, I learned that my own little boys, with their instinctive love of balls and wheels and cowboys-and-Indians and cops-and-robbers, would—if denied access to toy guns—simply imagine their own deadly weapon, made of popsicle sticks or kitchen utensils or plastic tubing. I urged my older son not to point garden tools at his brother and scream “Bang bang, you’re dead!!”—but sometimes, he did that anyway. He did not grow up to rob banks.
Is this much ado about nothing? Or has Father Pfleger identified a source of rabid cultural deconstruction that will end in crowded jails and heartbroken mothers?
What do you think?