Grassroots life savers: organizing to get illegal guns off the streets

Because Bread & Roses Community Fund — and its network of grantees and donors — is committed to making racial and economic justice a reality in the Delaware Valley, ending gun violence is a top priority. After all, Pennsylvania has the highest rate in the nation of black homicide victims, and most of those deaths are caused by guns.

Dorothy Johnson-Speight, co-founder of Mothers in Charge, is a leader in the movement to end gun violence in Philadelphia. She says, “the issue of illegal guns is a big deal. ” Dorothy received a Trailblazer award for her work as a founder and organizer for Mothers in Charge at September’s Tribute to Change. “Things are changing… slowly. But recognizing what organizations like ours are doing and why it’s being done will get more people involved, an d maybe be come contagious.”

Philadelphia’s District Attorney Williams and Mayor Nutter have each demonstrated a commitment to reducing gun violence, investing in prevention programs and ending the sale of illegal guns. But there is much work to be done — the kind that can only be done by cutting-edge community – based organizations like the ones you help to support through Bread & Roses Community Fund.

That’ s why a Racial & Economic Justice Fund grant was made for the first time this year to Heeding God’s Call. You may remember that Heeding God’s Call led a nine-month long campaign to get Colosimo’s — a gun shop located at 9th and Spring Garden — to clean up it s act.

James Colosimo, the owner of the store, was asked by a delegation of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders from Heeding God’s Call to adopt a code of conduct that would have helped to reduce the number of guns sold to straw purchasers — people who buy guns legally and then transfer them to gun traffickers to sell them illegally on the black market.

Colosimo refused to sign. In response, Heeding God’s Call members staged marches and rallies in which hundreds of people came together to call on him to adopt the code of conduct. They held twice-weekly prayer vigils out side the store for months. And 12 faith leaders went so far as to kneel down in prayer — in the middle of the gun shop and on the sidewalk outside — refusing to get up until Colosimo signed the pledge. He didn’t, and they were all arrested.

The subsequent trial (all 12 faith leaders were acquitted), not to mention the months of vigils, rallies and the media attention created a tremendous sense of pressure to do something about the illegal sale of guns at Colosimo’s. And in September, the U.S. Attorney’s office filed charges against Colosimo for engaging in straw gun sales, exactly the practice that Heeding was protesting. He pleaded guilty, his license was taken away and the store closed that week.

“We think our persistence and the attention we brought to the issue of illegal gun distribution at Colosimo’s had a lot to do with the timing of the charges,” says Therese Miller, Heeding God’s Call’s executive director.

Following up on the successful campaign to close the gun shop, Heeding God ’s Call now plans to organize partnerships and small groups of three to five local faith community leaders from all around the region.

“Bringing faith communities together across lines of difference to create local hubs of action will grow and sustain a movement for violence reduction ,” says Miller.

Heeding God’s Call is one of the eight grassroots organizations to get a Racial &Economic Justice Fund grant this year. With the support of people like you from all over the region, Bread & Roses is able to make grants to cutting-edge groups like these.

Heeding God’s Call members stand protest outside of Colosimo’s Gun Center in 2009.

Heeding God’s Call members stand protest outside of Colosimo’s Gun Center in 2009.