Monica Yant Kinney: Faith triumphs over firepower

Monica Yant Kinney - Inquirer Columnist - Philadelphia Inquirer - 09/27/2009

This column goes out to anyone who has been feeling powerless. You may no longer have a job, a house, or retirement savings, but you still have a voice. Speak out, loud and long, and you can be heard.

Just ask the activists with Heeding God's Call about the power of prayerful protest. Twice a week for nine months, members of the antiviolence group have demonstrated at 10th and Spring Garden Streets in front of Colosimo's Gun Center.

In January, I watched a minister, a rabbi, and two professional peacemakers get arrested after confronting owner James Colosimo about his nasty record of selling guns that wind up in the hands of criminals. In May, a packed courtroom gasped as a judge exonerated the activists, who had used a novel defense: They had trespassed to thwart gun sales and bloodshed, committing a lesser offense to prevent crimes against humanity.

The demonstrations and legal victory led federal officials to pull their own trigger. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) filed notice to revoke Colosimo's license, and last week the U.S. Attorney's Office charged Colosimo's business with knowing, or having "reason to believe," it sold to straw buyers.

Colosimo's attorney now says the shop will close. The gun dealer declined interviews, but voiced disgust days earlier in a street exchange with Rob Stuart, a local documentary filmmaker.

"I'm the martyr," Colosimo griped. "It's not the way I'd like to go out, but I'm tired."

One small step

Some activists might gloat after bringing a legend to his knees, but men and women of the cloth prefer to pray. As the Rev. Mary Laney of St. Christopher's Episcopal Church in Gladwyne put it, "We are making one small step on this stormy path toward peace."

Heeding God's Call (www.heedinggodscall.org) doesn't seek to ban firearms. Members want gun dealers to fight illegal trafficking by signing a 10-point code of conduct.

"Every gun dealer should be willing to sign," said Sam Caldwell, a Quaker with Providence Friends Meeting in Media. "Every responsible gun owner should make sure they only buy from those who do."

Police trace a gun used in a crime back to the store where it was bought through the serial number. Most gun dealers have never had a crime-gun trace, but among the few that have, Colosimo's was king.

ATF data have shown that 20 percent of all guns recovered at crime scenes in Philadelphia were originally purchased at Colosimo's. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence considers Colosimo's the fifth-worst gun dealer in all of America.

In an unflinching court filing last year, City Solicitor Shelley Smith wrote that "Colosimo's values profits over the lives of others."

A spiritual standoff

In person, Colosimo is polite, if exasperated. Whenever I've asked him about straw buying, he has chomped on a cigar and played dumb.

"Naturally, I have more traces," he once told me. "I'm the oldest gun dealer in Pennsylvania. I've sold more guns."

Even though ammo sales are surging nationwide, anecdotal reports show that the protests did hurt Colosimo's business. "Customer traffic was light," noted Cherie Ryans, a Southwest Philadelphia mother who spent Saturdays outside the store in memory of the son she lost to an illegal gun. "Those who did go in wouldn't look us in the eye."

Once the shock of Colosimo's retreat wore off, Ryans took solace in playing even a small role in forcing a bad actor to quit.

"I will never find the person who took my son's life," she said, "but another life will be spared because this shop has closed."

Emboldened by the victory, the curbside crusade continues. Heads up, Shooter Shop in Kensington: You're next.

Contact Monica Yant Kinney at myant@phillynews.com or 215-854-4670. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/yantkinney

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