Wednesday, October 07, 2009

An ‘Amen’ to a Historic Peace Church effort on gun violence.

As soon as we had said "Amen" to close our morning prayer time, my community member gave me the news: late the night before she learned that Colosimo’s Gun Center had been charged by the federal government for illegally selling guns to straw purchasers.

Two days earlier, on Sept. 21, more than 60 people of faith from across Philadelphia had gathered in front of the gun shop to hold a prayer vigil as part of On Earth Peace’s International Day of Prayer for Peace Campaign.

By Sept. 30, the business owner of Colosimo’s Gun Center had pleaded guilty in court, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) had permanently revoked the store’s license to sell firearms, and the store had been closed down.

These are the dramatic, recent developments in a string of actions, vigils, and protests by many faith communities in Philadelphia to do something about the gun violence choking our city. In the last two and a half weeks, over 50 people have been shot. Over the last five years, on average 304 people have been shot down and killed each year in the city. The "Philadelphia Inquirer" has tracked gun homicide details for the past 10 years (for more go to

More people die in Philadelphia alone by gun violence each year than the total number of people killed through gun violence in any of the countries in Western Europe, Japan, Canada, or Australia ( The great majority of the guns used in these shootings are illegal guns.

This past January, I went with four other people, including former Brethren Witness/Washington Office director Phil Jones, into Colosimo’s Gun Center. The five of us had come together for Heading God’s Call: A Gathering on Peace, which was organized by the Historic Peace Churches. The organizers of Heeding God’s Call knew they must put words into action and address the violence in the host city of Philadelphia. Colosimo’s Gun Center had long been known by both law enforcement and criminals as a prime source of illegal guns.

The latest ATF data revealed that one-fifth of all crime guns used in Philadelphia were traced back to this store, in a statistic prior to 2003. (Since then, ATF data has been suppressed by the National Rifle Association through the Tiahrt Amendment that is attached to the ATF appropriation bill each year so the public can no longer find out the latest statistics on crime guns and where they come from.)

We went to the store to ask the owner to sign a code of conduct created by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition and Wal-Mart, that is intended to help stem the flow of handguns to the illegal market by reducing the "straw buying" that feeds it. Straw buyers stand in for gun traffickers at gun shops to make bulk purchases that end up on the street, and Colosimo’s was involved in these kinds of sales.

This was not the first time the store owner had heard of the code of conduct or had been asked to sign it. Before the five of us came into his store, he met multiple times with a Heeding God’s Call delegation of religious leaders to learn about the code and listen to a plea to sign it. He said he would not sign it.

He also told the five of us who came into his store that he would not sign it. While we waited for him to sign it, we were arrested and then spent the night in jail. Two days later, another seven people connected to the peace gathering attempted to ask him to sign the code. They also were arrested. The 12 of us stood trial in May on charges of criminal conspiracy, defiant trespassing, disorderly conduct, and obstructing a public highway. As we stood trial, so too did the violence that chokes our city. After a one-day trial, the 12 of us were found not guilty.

Before and after the trial, and since January, we have held weekly Monday and Saturday protests in front of gun store, calling on the owner to sign the code of conduct. Over 250 Christians came to the store on Good Friday for a vigil, remembering the violence that took the life of Jesus, the gun violence that takes the lives of so many in Philadelphia, and this gun shop’s role in it. And most recently, we were there for the International Day of Prayer for Peace.

Later that same week, articles in the Philadelphia papers were reading "The Strength of a Prayer" and "Faith Triumphs over Firepower."

We are sending a message to our neighbors that we are paying attention, that we will not accept the violence on our streets, that we will persist and persevere in our insistence that all share the responsibility of ending gun violence. Through organizing and faithfulness we contributed to the actions taken by the Federal government to charge the gun shop for its participation in straw purchase sales. And we stand, and will continue to stand, with the people who have been fighting against gun violence for years upon years in this city.

-- Mimi Copp is a Church of the Brethren member of Shalom House, an intentional Christian Community in Philadelphia dedicated to pro-active peacemaking (

Source: 10/7/2009 Newsline

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