By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Fifteen years old, Nicholas Pointer has already buried a cousin, an uncle and a grandfather killed by gun violence.
Pointer, a sophomore at Hogan Prep Academy, himself has been the victim of a robbery at gunpoint.
“Nobody should have to go to a funeral to see a family member buried, especially someone young,” he said as he joined more than 200 people Oct. 10 at the corner of 63rd Street and Troost Avenue to protest the imminent grand opening of a pawn shop that has been licensed to buy and sell guns and ammunition — at pawn shop prices.
Pointer’s classmate, Terrell Johnson pointed to their school, the former Bishop Hogan High School, clearly visible a block southwest of the proposed Smart Pawn shop.
“Gun stores shouldn’t be right next to schools,” he said. “That shouldn’t be allowed.”
The store will open in a space at the Landing Shopping Center that has been vacant for a few years. The last occupant was a Hollywood Video store that once rented videocassette and DVD movies.
Father Ernie Davis, administrator of St. Therese Little Flower Parish less than a mile away, isn’t impressed by the argument that the shopping center had to lease space to a gun-dealing pawn shop, not when there were two broad daylight gun battles this summer, one right in front of his church that took a life, and the other a block away that wounded a man.
“You have to use a little imagination. Look at Niece’s,” he said, pointing to the restaurant that opened in an old Pizza Hut just a block and a half south on Troost. “Their parking lot is full.”
Father Davis also pointed to the payday loan business already open next door to Smart Pawn. Then he noted another payday loan business, Speedy Cash, as well as the Cash America pawn shop and payday loan store just a few blocks east at 63rd and the Paseo.
“I can just hear the money getting sucked out of poor people’s lives,” he said. “If there were money here, then it would be a different kind of store going in here.”
The Oct. 10 rally also turned Troost Avenue from a dividing line into a uniting line, bringing together people from churches and schools from both sides of the street.
“This is very close to our home. It’s so close that we walked here,” said Erin Schmidt, a St. Peter parishioner who brought her daughter Lucy, 9, and son Oscar, 8. “We don’t need this in our neighborhood.”
Dr. Marian Brown, superintendent of Benjamin Banneker Charter School of Technology could also stand at the rally and point to her school, with over 350 students, in the old Cleveland Chiropractic College just two blocks away.
She also noted that in addition to her school, Hogan Prep, and St. Peter’s, there are within a one mile radius at least four other public, private and charter schools, most of them elementary schools, attended daily by more than 1,200 children.
“We don’t need this close to schools,” Brown said. “It is the easy accessibility to guns close to schools that concerns me. You almost have to be under a rock not to know about the violence caused by guns.”
Father Steve Cook, pastor of St. Peter Parish, paced off the distance as he walked to the rally.
“From the corner of our parking lot where our pre-school is, it is just under 500 steps to this rally,” he said. “Putting in a shop that sells guns here isn’t a good idea.”
“There is enough violence in our communities right now. We don’t want to add to it,” said Jennifer Hartung, who came from her home near 72nd and Holmes, near both St. Peter’s School and University Academy.
Sarah Williams, also a Hogan Prep sophomore, and her 11-year-old sister Rachel, a fifth grader at Language Arts Academy who said she will attend Hogan one day, both said there are too many guns in the community already.
“Anybody can be carrying a gun, and if they aren’t, then they can go in here and get one,” Sarah said. “Guns are a bad way to solve a problem.”
Rachel said she was standing up for her sister.
“I don’t want to see her get hurt,” she said. “There are also other schools around here. I don’t want to see those kids get hurt either.”
Jude Huntz, director of the diocesan Human Rights Office, said his work in organizing the rally was “the easiest thing I’ve ever done.”
“It started with an e-mail I got about two weeks ago, so I talked to Jerry Jones at CCO (Churches Creating Opportunity, a community orgranizing network),” Huntz said.
“We were able to bring people together from both sides of Troost,” he said.
Not only did the rally draw from both sides of Troost, it also united Christian congregations.
“Our faith tradition tells us it is wrong to say nothing while this is going on in our community,” said the Rev. Rayfield Burns of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church.
“I’ll pray in my faith tradition, you pray in yours, and together we will raise our prayers up to heaven,” he said.