A Chicago priest known nationally for his social activism and controversial statements is pressing for more aggressive efforts in his city and in Washington to tackle an "epidemic" that leaves more than seven kids dead each day.
"Swine flu is a possibility that it could get worse. Gun violence is worse now. It's an epidemic," said Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic Church during his appearance over the weekend on CNN's Newsroom.
Over the past decade, at least 2,600 children and teens have been killed each year by gunfire in the United States. In 2006, the year the latest national data was released by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, there were 3,022 violence-related firearm deaths reported among children under the age of 19.That comes out to about one child every 3 hours, eight children every day, and nearly 60 children every week.
"We can't get immune to children dying. What kind of madness is this?" Pfleger told CNN's Don Lemon the day after two teens were shot outside of St. Sabina Church.
"We need help. We've had some 45 children killed this school year. A couple weekends ago, 11 people killed. 60 some shot in a weekend. Those are numbers like you have in Iraq or you have in Afghanistan," he added.
On Friday, two teens – ages 15 and 17 – were shot outside St. Sabina's elementary school in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood around 6:30 p.m. as a youth sports program was taking place.
Pfleger, who ran to the school gym and found the teens after hearing gunshots, reported Saturday that one of the teens has since been released and the other has stabilized but is still in serious condition after having been very critical Friday night.
"He has three gunshots in him," the priest reported.
Pfleger has called on the community to find and turn in the gunman who shot the teens and said he would offer a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction, even daring the gunman to come forward.
On Sunday, Pfleger took the pulpit to rally his church against violence and warned the city's gangs that "it's on," as the title of his sermon stated. He was backed by the men in the congregation who united at the altar behind his call.
"GD's it's on; Vice Lords, it's on; BD's, it's on; Stones it's on – anybody that comes against our children, it's on," Pfleger said.
In his interview with CNN Saturday, Pfleger had expressed his desire to see communities step up and for parents to step up and know where their children are.
"We want communities to say 'No more.' And we want young kids to know, understand, 'We'll help you. But if you shoot, we're coming for you.' You cannot shoot children and get away with it and stay in somebody's house," a visibly upset Pfleger said.
Meanwhile, the activist priest is urging lawmakers and the White House to take action on gun violence, calling for them to hold a national summit as was done with the swine flu or even consider a ban on assault weapons.
"We need to get the easy access to guns stopped in this country," he said. "I'm not against the Second Amendment. I just want to stop the excess that we have. Register guns like we do cars. A title from the manufacturer.
"We're asking for the White House, and we're asking for the capital. We need your help," Pfleger stated.