Editorial: Spiritual ‘power’ brings down Colosimo’s

Philadelphia Daily News - 09/25/2009

THE NEWS THAT Colosimo's gun shop will be closing brought to mind the words of Martin Luther King: ". . . The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."

The decision appears immediately precipitated by federal criminal charges Tuesday that the shop knowingly sold a total of 10 firearms to straw purchasers on six occasions - and plans by the government to revoke the gun shop's license.

But just as powerful, we suspect, was the relentless non-violent campaign organized by local faith communities to bring attention to the role Colosimo's played in the scourge of gun violence in this city. Evidence showed that a disproportionate number of guns purchased at the store had been used in crimes. In a legal filing by the Philadelphia city solicitor last year concluded, "Colosimo's values profits over the lives of others."

The arrests in January of a dozen activists for civil disobedience inside the store at 10th and Spring Garden Streets were connected to a national conference convened here by the historic peace churches but encompassing members of many other faiths. The civil disobedience followed weeks of discussions with Colosimo's in which activists urging the store to accept a voluntary 10-point code of conduct that was created by a national coalition of mayors, including Mayor Nutter. The code was aimed at preventing gun traffickers from hiding their identities by using intermediaries -- the kind of purchases Colosimo now is charged with allowing. (Demonstrators were acquitted of misdemeanor charges in May.)

Vigils have been held outside the store all year, in good weather and bad.

The faith-based campaign followed unsuccessful attempts to deal with the problem of straw purchases through legislation, most notably a law passed by Philadelphia City Council in 2008 but set aside by the state Legislature, an action upheld in Commonwealth Court in June.

In what may have seemed to many a naïve exercise, the religious activists framed irresponsible gun sales as the moral issue it is.

This lesson cuts two ways: Legal action is important, but even those without secular "power" can make a difference. At the same time, prayer need not be confined to churches, synagogues and mosques. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously described after participating in the 1965 civil rights march in Selma, "I felt my legs were praying."

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