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Religious leaders take stand against gun violence

Bishop Peggy Johnson of the Philadelphia Area prays for 12 religious activists at Arch Street United Methodist Church before they headed to court on charges of trespassing. A UMNS photo by the Rev. Carolene Brubaker.

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
May 28, 2009 | PHILADELPHIA (UMNS)

The Revs. David Tatgenhorst and James McIntire have too much in common. They have seen too many lives shattered by handgun violence.

In protest, the two United Methodist pastors joined 10 other religious leaders and blocked the entrance to Colosimo’s Gun Center in January. They were arrested for trespassing and disorderly conduct, and put on trial.

The Revs. David Tatgenhorst and Mary Laney hold a 10-point code of conduct they wanted the owner of Colosimo’s Gun Center in Philadelphia to sign. UMNS Web-only photos courtesy of Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference.

Then their cries of justice were heard.

As the defendants took the stand, story after story of lives destroyed by handguns came out, Tatgenhorst said. “The bigger issue of justice took hold. It was miraculous.”

All 12 were acquitted May 27.

At one point, it started to feel more like the gun retailer was on trial as the activists, many of them clergy, began to tell their stories, Tatgenhorst said.

McIntire testified about being in a hospital room with parents who had just lost their second son in five months to gun violence. As the dazed family was leaving they met a young Amish couple coming in. It was the day after a gunman opened fire in an Amish school in Lancaster, Pa., killing five little girls. Three more children were in intensive care.

“One of the women from Kenny’s family looked through her own tear-filled eyes and with compassion asked, ‘Oh, how are your girls?’”

It was in that moment that McIntire said he felt God calling him to do something to stop the epidemic of violence.

Tatgenhorst believes the simple act of blocking entrance to the store probably saved someone’s life that day. “We may have turned some straw purchaser away,” he said. Straw purchasers are people paid to buy handguns by persons who cannot legally purchase the guns themselves.

Grounded in prayer

More than 100 people packed Arch Street United Methodist Church at 8 a.m. on the morning of the trial in support of the 12 protesters. Among them were United Methodist Bishop Peggy A. Johnson, episcopal leader of Philadelphia, and 15 other United Methodist pastors.

Johnson quoted from Timothy II, “‘God has not given us a spirit of fear, but power, love, and self control.’ In the midst of this gun violence world of Philadelphia there is much fear. But we have the power of God for empowerment, the love that casts out fear and the self control that speaks the truth in love.”

A Good Friday protest at Colosimo’s was organized by the faith-based campaign, Heeding God’s Call.

As each of the 12 names were called, supporters laid hands on them, praying: “Holy One hear our prayer and journey with us as we seek to drive away the forces of violence from our land. Surround us with your spirit and the power of your love that your truth may be heard and heeded here in this city of Philadelphia on this day.”

At 9 a.m., the gathering walked with the defendants to the courthouse singing “We’ve Come This Far by Faith.”

The trial had to be moved to a bigger courtroom when 150 people came to hear testimony. McIntire said there were another 100 people in the hallway outside the courtroom.

“The judge was shocked, the gun owner was shocked, the prosecution was shocked,” he said.

Heeding God’s Call

Tatgenhorst and McIntire are members of Heeding God’s Call, a grassroots campaign to end gun violence in Philadelphia.

The group chose Colosimo’s Gun Center because it 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.

The state’s legislature has failed to adopt a law that would limit purchases of handguns to one a month, McIntire said. “I began to realize the absurd reality of living in Pennsylvania—the absurdity of being able to walk into a gun shop and buy as many handguns as one wants as long as you have an ID, no criminal record and no history of mental illness.”

The group asked the owner of Colosimo to sign a 10-point gun dealer’s code of conduct that he would voluntarily take responsibility and not allow unlimited purchases of guns.

Change of heart

Both pastors are praying Colosimo and his family will be affected by the trial and have a change of heart.

The group continues to stand outside the gun shop every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and every Monday from 4 to 6 p.m. Tatgenhorst said sometimes it is only two people, sometimes it is 30.

McIntire says what started as a peace conference focused on gun violence has turned into a movement.

“It feels like it is growing and uniting lots of people around this issue—it is powerful.”

**Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference

Heeding God’s Call

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