Two members of our EU community were arrested when they participated in a non-violent demonstration against the escalating gun violence in Philadelphia.
Professor Drick Boyd and Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education staff member Melissa DeLong were willing to risk arrest to draw attention to the fact that Colosimo’s Gun Center, located across the street from Eastern’s city campus on Spring Garden Street, has been identified as one of eight gun dealers to whom half of all crime guns in Philadelphia can be traced.
Both Boyd and DeLong have been impacted by gun violence personally. DeLong attended the funeral of her neighbor’s four-year-old grandson – a tiny innocent bystander killed in gun crossfire. Boyd teaches students who have been shot and disfigured and who have lost family members to gun violence. Both see the risk they took in protesting outside of Mr. Colosimo’s store as part of their strong commitment to peace and conflict resolution.
Boyd and DeLong were two of 375 Christians involved in “Heeding God’s Call: A Gathering on Peace” organized by members of the historic peace churches – Brethren, Mennonite and Quaker – to raise awareness surrounding Philly’s growing epidemic of gun violence, and to inspire change – to “speak truth to power.”
James Colosimo, the 57-year owner of the gun shop, probably doesn’t see himself as ‘powerful,’ but his unwillingness to sign a 10-point code of conduct designed to reduce illegal trafficking of guns, which was presented to him by members of the gathering, suggests that he is part of the “powers that be” which places more value on revenue than on the lives of his neighbors.
DeLong is quick to point out that Mr. Colosimo is a good man, and she believes that an environment can be created for him to do the right thing. As Christians we are called to pray, inspire hope, raise our voices, and take action against injustice.
It is a widely recognized fact that Pennsylvania is the major source of illegal guns in the region because of its lax gun regulation and that illegal guns often end up in the hands of children. This was, and is, the focus of these Christians.
Statistics show that 81 percent of crime guns in Pittsburgh and 75 percent of crime guns in Philadelphia were first sold in Pennsylvania, not counting illegal guns sold into bordering states. House Bills 22 and 29, widely supported by Pennsylvanians, represent pending legislation with the goal of stopping the flow of illegal guns from Pennsylvania.
Ironically, while attempting to peacefully support the legislation currently on the books – and the Philadelphia police force which has been suffering under the city’s epidemic of violence – Boyd and DeLong were arrested along with ten others for disorderly conduct, criminal conspiracy and other misdemeanor charges.
DeLong and Boyd are two among many who believe this is an urgent issue and are willing to become part of a movement that will hold local gun sellers accountable in the same way cigarette manufacturers are beginning to be held accountable for cancer deaths.
In the face of escalating violence on American streets and even our schools, gun dealers must carefully monitor the sale of guns. When I spoke to them, both Boyd and DeLong said they know the reduction of guns won’t solve the root problem of the violence, but there has to be a starting place.
Each Philly death statistic represents a brother or a sister. How do we care for one another? Do we just listen to the disturbing news and go back to minding our own business – or do we take a stand? We are being transformed into the image of Jesus who took the ultimate risk, even against the authority of both church and state in his day – on our behalf.
On May 26, the twelve who were arrested including Boyd and DeLong, will be back in court to face their charges. This has been a costly stand, but their resolve is still strong.