Peace advocates win battle against gun violence

—After years of advocacy and peaceful vigils, members of Philadelphia’s Circle of Hope (BIC) congregation celebrate the closing of Colosimo’s gun shop, allegedly one of the foremost sellers of illegal firearms in the city.

“We have won for a brief moment,” states Mimi Copp, a member of Circle of Hope Broad & Washington and a long-time participant in Heeding God’s Call, an ecumenical anti-gun advocacy group.

The gun store shut its doors for good on September 30.

The closing follows years of direct-action activism outside of Colosimo’s store by members of Circle of Hope and Heeding God’s Call, who were asking store owner James Colosimo to sign a code of conduct that would require the store to employ more stringent measures for tracking gun purchases.

Colosimo’s had long been accused of selling firearms that wind up in the hands of criminals. According to data from the non-profit group Ceasefire New Jersey, nine percent of all guns used in violent crimes in Philadelphia in 2003 were traced back to Colosimo’s.

On Tuesday, September 22, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed charges against Colosimo’s Inc., claiming that the dealership had knowingly sold 10 firearms to straw purchasers (individuals with clear records who buy guns and subsequently re-sell them to criminals) between 2004 and 2007.

Additionally, the city’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives filed a notice to revoke the store’s gun license.

Although these factors necessarily precipitated the closing of the dealership, experts claim that the advocates from Circle and Heeding God’s Call played a critical role in spurring this government inquest.

As a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist wrote on September 26, the groups “deserve much of the credit for shutting down one of Philadelphia's worst sources of handguns used in crimes.”

Copp—who, along with four others, was arrested for direction action taken against Colosimo’s store in January—says that the closing signals an opportunity for new direction in the groups’ quest to quell gun violence in Philadelphia and beyond.

“We will be going to other gun shops in Philly, asking them to sign the code of conduct,” says Mimi. This code of conduct, a document promoted by the U.S.-based group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, would require the store to employ more stringent measures for tracking gun purchases.

Heeding God’s Call and Circle of Hope will also be partnering with other area anti-violence groups to promote peace and reconciliation in other ways throughout the city, claims Mimi.

Additionally, Mimi indicates that other churches throughout Pennsylvania have taken notice of the work of Heeding God’s Call in Philadelphia.

"Folks from the Philly area have been talking with other communities throughout the state,” Mimi shares. “A lot of interest is brewing in Harrisburg among the churches there.”