Fayette County

Two events in downtown Lexington illustrate national divide over guns

People lit candles for victims of the Sandy Hook shooting in Triangle Park. About 150 people attended the vigil while the Lexington Gun and Knife Show was taking place at the Lexington Center nearby.
People lit candles for victims of the Sandy Hook shooting in Triangle Park. About 150 people attended the vigil while the Lexington Gun and Knife Show was taking place at the Lexington Center nearby. Lexington Herald-Leader

Charlotte Bacon, 6 ... Daniel Barden, 7 ... Rachel Davino, 29 ... On Saturday in Lexington, the names of the 20 children and eight adults killed three weeks ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., were read one by one, and candles were lit in remembrance.

Local ministers urged a crowd of about 150, shivering in Triangle Park, to unite for interfaith warmth and comfort in dealing with communal grief. Meanwhile, a much larger crowd waited to get into the Lexington Gun & Knife Show across the street at Heritage Hall.

It was a stark illustration of the national divide over guns.

To Kenny Woods, a Baptist minister and gun shop owner from Hazard who founded the show, the event was about "enjoying freedoms."

"There's good and evil that's prevalent in this world," he said. "Sometimes good has to have some things to overcome evil. Ninety-nine percent of the people are good people, and I don't think our freedoms should be stepped on."

In Triangle Park, some called for political action to address gun violence.

"Let us stand up today and in 2013 for those whose voices have been silenced by guns," said the Rev. Kyle Brown, associate pastor at Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church.

There were prayers for solace and for victims who will never fulfill the promise of young lives.

"I light this candle in memory of Charlotte Bacon," said the Rev. Susan Warren of Beaumont Presbyterian Church. "She wanted to grow up to be a veterinarian. ... She wanted to grow up. ... Her favorite color was pink. On Dec. 14, her mother let her wear her new pink boots, her new pink dress to school. ... Charlotte is a statistic now. She joins the nearly 6,000 children killed by guns in 2008-09 and the thousands killed since. We don't hear a lot about them on an individual basis."

Gatherings like Saturday's public memorial are a good place to start dialogue "to transform public perception and to alter public policy," said the Rev. Mark Johnson of Central Baptist Church.

"I am sick and tired of weeping and moaning and asking why, why another senseless killing," said Doug Ensminger, retired chief of chaplains at the Veterans Hospital in Houston. "I desperately want to be able to tell my school-aged grandchildren they are safe, but they are not, whether at school or the mall or a movie theater. ... Will the killings at Sandy Hook finally touch our national soul enough to give us the moral courage to ask all the hard moral questions and arrive at some answers we can act on?"

Ensminger said those arguing against tighter restrictions on the kinds of weapons used in Sandy Hook suggest "if we have enough in the right hands, they can make us secure. But they cannot."

A different point of view could be heard at the gun show. Charles Riggs of the Kentucky Concealed Carry Coalition said free concealed-carry classes were being offered for teachers under the premise that "an armed individual is the only thing that stops violence."

Those in favor of banning weapons "don't want to provide you with the means to be able to defend yourself. They believe that it's bad, as if an inanimate object like a stick could be bad — that guns are bad, and they're not," Riggs said.

Woods said the interfaith memorial at Triangle Park was improper. "I think a church has no business in this," he said. "I think they're attention-seekers, myself."

About 1,500 to 2,000 a day were expected to attend the gun show, which continues Sunday, Woods said: "Since (Sandy Hook) happened, we've been breaking attendance records," and "people are buying stuff they were never buying before. The warehouses are empty, the gun stores are empty."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader