The involvement of faith leaders in efforts to strengthen gun laws in the United States goes back decades if not further. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, for example, was originally founded by the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society and other religious organizations in mid-1970s. An exciting campaign known as “Heeding God’s Call,” however, is providing the faith community with new opportunities to take the lead in reducing gun violence in our country. Originally started in Pennsylvania, Heeding God’s Call has now spread south into Maryland.
The mission statement of Heeding God’s Call calls for the campaign to “unite people of faith in the sacred responsibility to protect our brothers, sisters and children.” The campaign realizes it mission by: 1) Helping local faith communities organize advocacy campaigns to encourage gun shops to adopt a code of conduct to deter illegal purchasing and trafficking of handguns; 2) Providing support and resources for faith communities to form multi-racial, ecumenical and interfaith partnerships working together, on both social and legislative levels, to prevent gun violence; 3) Serving as a “connection point” for congregations and partnerships to connect with, learn from and support the work of gun violence prevention organizations and efforts already in place, and ; 4) Advocating for faith communities to make commitments to raise voices and take action to prevent gun violence.
Started in 2008, the signature victory of Heeding God’s Call came in September 2009 when the sustained protests of faith leaders in Philadelphia pressured the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to shut down Colosimo’s Gun Center, a store that was the source of one out of every five crime guns recovered in the city. That same month, a Heeding God’s Call campaign took root in the Pennsylvania state capital, Harrisburg. Now, in 2010, new groups have sprung up in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, Maryland.
On October 20, faith leaders from Baltimore gathered at Clyde’s Sport Shop in Lansdowne, Maryland. They asked the store’s owner, Clyde Blamberg, to sign a 10-point Code of Conduct. This voluntary code asks gun dealers to implement marketing safeguards to prevent illegal “straw” sales; such as videotaping gun sales, deterring fake IDs, and conducting background checks on all store employees. A 2008 report from the Abell Foundation found that Clyde’s was the second largest source of crime guns seized in Baltimore during the period January 1, 2006 through March 31, 2007.
"We are not implying that you break the law," Bishop Douglas Miles of Koinonia Baptist Church told Blamberg. "I'm sure you faithfully follow the procedures. We just want to ask you to help us to help prevent the havoc that is going on in our communities.” “We need people voluntarily who will decide to do the right thing. We can’t just depend on the law to have good communities, we need people of good will,” added Rev. Dr. Eugene Sutton, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. Standing with Miles and Sutton were Rev. Peter Nord, Presbyter Executive of the Presbytery of Baltimore; Rev. Jack Sharpe, President, Central Maryland Ecumenical Council; Rev. Wolfgang D. Herz-Lane, Synod Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Imam Earl El-Amin, Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore; Rev. John R. Schol, Baltimore-Washington Conference United Methodist Church; Dr. Arthur Abramson, Executive Director, Baltimore Jewish Council; Rev. Dr. John Deckenback, Central Atlantic Conference United Church of Christ; and Rev. Denis Madden, Auxilliary Bishop, Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore.
The Baltimore group is not giving up so easy, however. “With a primary goal to reduce the flow of illegal handguns on city streets,” Heeding God’s Call will return to Clyde’s Sports Shop on December 11 at 3:00 PM to again ask Blamberg to sign the Code of Conduct.
Blamberg is not the only gun dealer in Maryland who has been approached by the faith community. On November 13, the Partnership for Renewal in Southern and Central Maryland (PRISCM) conducted a prayer vigil and protest at Realco Guns in Forestville. 60 people attended the event, including religious leaders, gun violence survivors, and elected officials. They were responding to a recent Washington Post investigation that revealed that more than 2,500 guns used in crimes have been traced back to Realco in the past 18 years. In addition, nearly one in every three guns confiscated by authorities in the District of Columbia and Prince George's County was purchased from the dealer.
“We’re not here today to necessarily gang up on Mr. [Carlos] del Real, who is the owner of this shop, but we are here to bring attention to this shop,” said Youth Minister Raimon Jackson of Gethsemane United Methodist Church. “We are here to...let him know that our community will no longer stand for...the traces of guns that are found in connection with this shop.”
Minister Rosita Barnes of St. Paul's Baptist Church contributed a prayer: “Lord we ask that you would touch the buyers, the would-be buyers and the sellers...We pray that each would-be buyer in this shop—or anywhere else—looks deep within themselves where we believe [they] will find God and ask the question, ‘Lord, what shall I do?’”
The faith leaders in Prince George’s County presented del Real with a copy of the Code of Conduct. He accepted it, but like Blamberg, refused to sign. Like their counterparts in Baltimore, however, these faith leaders were not deterred. They announced they, too, would be coming back, and soon.