|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
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.
Then their cries of justice were heard.
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.
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
“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
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
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 email@example.com.
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Judge acquits gun protesters
Monica Yant Kinney: Appeal to conscience carries the day
Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference
Heeding God’s Call