Heeding God's Call to End Violence

By Suzy Keenan - NEWSpirit! Eastern Pennsylvania Disciples of Jesus Christ - 05/08/2009

Good Friday was filled with mourning and a vigil over senseless death. That is, Good Friday, April 10, 2009, when 300 persons attended an interdenominational worship and vigil which took place outside Colosimo’s Gun Center at 9th and Spring Garden Streets in Philadelphia as a witness against the devastation of handgun violence.

The Good Friday event was held as part of a faith-based campaign to prevent gun violence – Heeding God’s Call - which is spreading rapidly throughout the Philadelphia Area. At the close of the worship service, The Rev. David Tatgenhorst of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Bryn Mawr, PA, and Rev. Mary Laney of St. Christopher’s Episcopal in Gladwyne, PA, held up a ten-point gun dealer’s Code of Conduct. Gun dealers throughout the state are being asked to sign the Code of Conduct in an effort to reduce irresponsible sale of handguns, illegal trafficking of handguns, and handgun violence.

Heeding God’s Call’s grassroots campaign to end gun violence grew out of a January Peace Gathering hosted by Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, and Society of Friends - the historic peace churches in Philadelphia. The informal coalition now includes many individuals and faith organizations. Staggering statistics report that in 2006, more than 400 homicides were committed in Philadelphia, most with handguns. In Harrisburg, the per capita rate of gun death exceeded that of Philadelphia.

Heeding God’s Call chose Colosimo’s Gun Center as the site of the Good Friday service, as Colosimo’s is listed as one of the five worst gun shops in the U.S. in terms of guns sold and then recovered from crime, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. From 1989 to 1996, Colosimo’s sold 425 guns traced to crime: 10 homicides, 85 assaults, 30 robberies and 300 additional gun crimes.

The Good Friday service at Colosimo’s was one of a continuing series of events organized by Heeding God’s Call. “The campaign will be carried to other Delaware Valley gun shops and the eventual goal is to have all gun shops in the Commonwealth to adopt the Code of Conduct,” said Bryan Miller, a participant, and executive director of Ceasefire NJ. Miller became involved in Heeding God’s Call because handgun crime in New Jersey is often committed using guns sold in Pennsylvania to straw buyers. “Heeding God’s Call is a non-legislative advocacy campaign that enables churches and individuals to get Heeding God’s call to end violence Funding involved in direct action with gun shops in their communities – to save lives from gun violence. On Good Friday we prayed for the families of those who have been killed in senseless and avoidable gun violence. And we prayed for the proprietor of the gun shop, James Colosimo, to sign the Code of Conduct.”

The ten-point Code of Conduct is based on a recent partnership agreement between Walmart, the nation’s leading retailer of guns, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition. The Code of Conduct is intended to diminish straw buying and the illegal trafficking it supports, thereby closing off the flow of weapons into criminals’ hands. Straw buyers are persons paid to purchase handguns by persons who cannot legally purchase the guns themselves, and who often buy handguns in bulk for the sake of profit.

Meetings and demonstrations staged by Heeding God’s Call through January and February, failed to obtain Mr. Colosimo’s signature and adoption of the gun dealers Code of Conduct. During demonstrations during the week of January 12, two United Methodist pastors, Rev. Tatgenhorst and Rev. Jim McIntire, were among twelve persons of faith who were arrested in an attempt to block the doors - and sales - at Colosimo’s Gun Center. The twelve will be tried in Philadelphia on May 26. Rev. Tatgenhorst said, “As we are tried for trespassing and for blocking the doors to Colosimo’s, we will try to put Mr. Colosimo on trial for selling guns irresponsibly to straw buyers. The twelve of us who were arrested have elected to defend ourselves in court, so we will talk about why we think Mr. Colosimo should sign the Code of Conduct.”

The public trial will be held at the Criminal Justice Center at 13th and Filbert in Philadelphia beginning at 9:00 a.m. There will be a vigil outside so the public can be included in the witness against the continuing problem of gun violence.

Among the EPA Conference United Methodist Churches that have taken a leading role in Heeding God’s Call as community organizers and hosts are Cookman UMC in North Philadelphia; St. Luke UMC in Bryn Mawr; Drexel Hill UMC; Hope UMC in Havertown; Grace Community UMC in Chester; and Arch Street UMC in Philadelphia.

Bryan Miller spoke of increasing community involvement: “Heeding God’s Call is new and growing and long-term committed to change in attitudes and regulations about guns, particularly illegal guns. We hope to take this to other gun shops – working with groups of people on the Main Line, Chester, and Kensington, who will take the Code of Conduct and campaign to local gun shops.” Miller added, “If every gun shop in Pennsylvania adopted the Code, it would severely diminish gun trafficking which would result in far fewer gun deaths. Heeding God’s Call welcomes any and all to be a part of the campaign. It will take the involvement of many of the faithful to bring change to Pennsylvania and save hundreds of lives yearly.”