Statement of Noah Baker Merrill

Religious Society of Friends, Putney Meeting (Brattleboro, VT)


I am a lifelong member of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers. My meeting has recognized in me the call to ministry among Friends, in other communities, and among the people of Iraq. The foundation of my faith is the reality and movement in the world of a God who is Peace, and who calls us to live in that Life and Power that takes away the occasion for all war and violence.

I hope to briefly present here some sense of what I was thinking when I chose to participate in prayerful nonviolent witness at James Colosimo's gun shop.

Much of the last seven years of my life have been spent promoting relationship between the people of the United States and the people of Iraq. For most of the last three years, I have lived among, worked with, or sought support for Iraqis who have been injured in war and violence. I have learned to identify in my time working with Iraqi friends the tangible Spirit of Love that guides their efforts to build a practical future of peace for their people, even though they are surrounded by violence on all sides. Quite simply, I sensed that same Spirit of Love moving among those involved in the witness at Colosimo's Gun Shop, and out of obedience to the Author of my faith, I joined them.

In my travels in the ministry, I've visited Philadelphia eight times in the last year. I've heard and read the stories of the toll that gun violence has taken on the people and communities of this city. I've carried the fear, grief, and anger of this with me as I've traveled elsewhere. As a Quaker, someone whose tradition has deep ties here, the suffering of the City of Philadelphia has held a place in my ongoing prayers. I was thinking about and praying for a future of peace for all of the city's people when I sat down in front of Colosimo's Gun Center.

In January, I was sent as a representative of Quakers in New England to a peace gathering organized by Philadelphia Quakers and others in the historic peace churches. As I attended the events of the conference, I was increasingly inspired by the dedication, prayerfulness, and insight of those working to encourage James Colosimo to adopt a reasonable Code of Conduct to prevent the sale of handguns that would likely be trafficked to those who would use them in crime. The more I learned about the specifics of the situation, the more convinced I became of the rightness of the faith-based gun violence prevention campaign entitled "Heeding God's Call". I sensed this might be the reason I had been sent to Philadelphia, to lend support and encouragement to their efforts. I prayed with them and expressed my willingness to join them in Spirit-led nonviolent action at the gun shop, to prevent straw purchasing and again invite James Colosimo to sign the Code of Conduct.

When I sat down in front of Colosimo's gun shop on January 16, I was thinking about Rasul. Rasul is eight years old. He's from Baghdad. Three years ago, Rasul was on his way home from the candy store in his neighborhood when he was caught in the crossfire between two groups of armed men. The bullet entered Rasul's right eye, perpendicular to his face. It passed through his right eye and through the bridge of his nose before exiting his left eye, destroying the eye socket in the process. Rasul's face was disfigured, his sight in both eyes almost gone. I met him in Jordan in 2007, and for a year worked with others to find him the medical care he needed.

When Rasul finally got the surgery to restore sight in his one remaining eye, it was in St. Louis, Missouri. When I met with the woman who would help arrange his surgery there, she told me about a young man from her community who had died in gun violence on the streets of East St. Louis only a short time before. Not so different, Rasul's world and the one she was describing. Not so different, the streets of Iraq and the streets of Philadelphia, where parents fear for their children's safety, where - thanks to the unethical, careless, or intentional actions of gun dealers and arms traffickers - guns are often more available than jobs, health care, or hope.

As I tried to sleep during the nights of the conference, Rasul's beautiful, broken face was with me. I know his face. I've touched his wounds. I've held his hand. I haven't held the hands of the children of Philadelphia struck down by the same evil, the same plague of gun violence. But in knowing Rasul, I feel I've known them. And I know he would want me to be here today, in support of all children struck down or threatened by gun violence, testifying to the need for action to prevent straw purchasing, and to enact reasonable limits on the sale and distribution of weapons used to kill.

From the conference, I called a close Iraqi friend and colleague in the Middle East. I told her I had felt God clearly leading me to participate in nonviolent direct action at Colosimo's. I told her about the situation here in Philadelphia, and I shared some of the statistics I had learned, including the fact that more than 300 people die in gun violence here each year. She was horrified.

"That's like Iraq," she said. She couldn't believe that this could happen in America. "Why do they have so many guns? How is this possible?", she asked. And then she cried.

When I sat down in front of Colosimo's, I was thinking about how important it was for people everywhere to understand that this is not merely an issue for Philadelphia, or for Pennsylvania. It's an issue for all of us who believe that every person and every community deserve safety and freedom from fear.

And this is my testimony.