Pastors and Guns


Protesters outside gun store: What do we want? Sign the code. What do we want? Sign the code.

LUCKY SEVERSON, correspondent: This is a rare site these days—protesters outside a gun shop. It’s called Delia’s, and it’s in North Philadelphia. The organizers are religious leaders from many different faiths. There are also people of faith protesting the protesters, like Bill Grumbine.

BILL GRUMBINE: Well, I am not here to demonstrate against the gun store. I’m here to show support for the gun store, and I always have a Bible with me.

SEVERSON: Both sides say gun violence is a moral issue, and both rely on their religious views to support their opposing positions. Pastor David Tatgenhorst and Bishop Dwayne Royster say they’re not against guns or gun ownership but can no longer keep silent about gun violence.

PASTOR DAVID TATGENHORST (St. Luke United Methodist Church, Bryn Mawr, Penn.): Our coalition of pastors and rabbis and different religious leaders has just become so appalled that we’re so tired of burying young people and policemen. It’s just senseless what’s happening.

post02b-pastorsandgunsBISHOP DWAYNE ROYSTER (Living Water United Church of Christ, North Philadelphia): The numbers of handgun-related crimes and murders in the city of Philadelphia is larger than that of most industrialized countries.

SEVERSON: So these pastors who have preached against gun violence from the pulpit have joined an interfaith group called Heeding God’s Call in cities in Pennsylvania and Maryland, and they have taken their message to the streets. It’s aimed at gun store owners, and it asks them to sign a code of conduct designed to stop so-called “straw purchases.” That’s where a private citizen buys guns with the intent of reselling them on the street to someone who cannot legally purchase firearms.

ROYSTER: Whenever they sell a gun through a straw purchase, there’s potentially a body at the end of that gun.

SEVERSON: The same code of conduct was signed by Walmart, the largest seller of firearms in the country.

ROYSTER: What we’re asking the gun shop owners to do is to do something moral and ethical in terms of their behavior, by being responsible not just for making money for themselves, but to be responsible for the community in which they find themselves, to make sure that guns go to only those who legally have a right to own them and to be able to use them.

post03-pastorsandgunsSEVERSON: Heeding God’s Call staged regular protests, sit-ins, and prayer vigils at this Philadelphia gun store called Colosimo’s. The interfaith ministers were responding to a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms study showing that over 400 guns from Colosimo’s had been used in crimes. In fact, 12 interfaith ministers including Tatgenhorst were arrested for obstruction and conspiracy and spent a night in jail. Then they pleaded their case to the judge.

TATGENHORST: The judge listened to this, and she acquitted us. Our argument was that we were trying to prevent a greater harm by breaking a smaller law.

SEVERSON: A few months later, Colosimo’s lost its license to sell guns, a victory for Heeding God’s Call.

PASTOR RUSS TENHOFF (Safe Harbor Ministry, Baltimore): I already have the Glock. I already have the 1911.

SEVERSON: When the Baltimore chapter of Heeding God’s Call tried to close down Clyde’s Sports Shop after complaints of selling guns to straw purchasers, Pastor Russ Tenoff was there to defend the store. One of the owners, Bill Blamberg, says he won’t sign the code because it violates his customers’ privacy. But he knows some people get guns who shouldn’t.

BILL BLAMBERG (Clyde’s Sports Shop): And I’ve had this happen a couple times. A guy comes in, you know he’s got a police record. He can’t buy one, right? He looks at this gun. It’s $549. He says, “I’ll give you a thousand dollars if I can take it today.” Now I’m not saying some dealers don’t do that, but Clyde’s don’t do that.

post04-pastorsandgunsSEVERSON: Pastor Tenhoff leads the Safe Harbor Ministry in a rough Baltimore neighborhood. He opposes Heeding God’s Call’s mission.

TENHOFF: If we could eliminate all guns I would be all for that. But the fact of the matter is until Jesus puts his feet on the Mount of Olives and then peace reigns over the whole planet, we’re going to have to protect ourselves and even protect the people around us, and if the criminals have guns, then we need to have them.

SEVERSON: One thing is certain: there is no shortage of guns in the US—as many as 300 million at the latest count. In some circles, owning a gun appears to be the patriotic thing to do. For those who predicted a rash of gun control laws after the Tucson shooting—barely a whisper. A few weeks after the shooting, the governor of Utah signed a bill proclaiming the first official state gun, and the University of Texas is about to become the second major school after the University of Utah to allow students to carry concealed weapons on campus. Clyde Wilcox is a professor of government at Georgetown University and author of several books on subjects like gun control and the Christian right.

PROFESSOR CLYDE WILCOX (Georgetown University): The interesting thing is we’ve come to the point where the debate is over whether you can carry a weapon in a bar, in a church, in a gymnasium, which were the places in the past where we thought maybe you don’t want to have a gun because fights can break out or people can become inflamed. So it’s really on the edge that we’re having this whole discussion now.

post05-pastorsandgunsROYSTER: Jesus ministered to the most marginalized, and he didn’t do it with a gun. He didn’t do it with violence. He did it with love.

TENHOFF: I have been a man who has turned the other cheek. You’re talking to a man who has been jumped by gangs and beat. You’re talking to a man who’s been in several knife fights. You’re talking to a man who has been shot at, and you’re talking to a man who has grown up in the drug-infested violence of this area, and I have turned the other cheek and I have taken beatings. But I’m not going to let my little boy suffer violence. I’m going to act. I’m not going to let my wife be raped. I’m going to act.

SEVERSON: A number of mainline churches have had longstanding positions in favor of some kind of gun control, but for the most part churches have been noticeably quiet. In fact, an increasing number of pastors are now speaking out in support of the Second Amendment, saying it was inspired by God.

WILCOX: I talk to a fair number of pastors who kind of take a fundamentalist reading of the Second Amendment the way they take a fundamentalist reading of the Bible.

SEVERSON: Pastor Tatgenhorst says he understands why more religious leaders haven’t been more outspoken about gun control.

TATGENHORST: It happens, and I know that I have had colleagues who are scared to talk about guns. They’re afraid that people in the pews will object to that.

post06-pastorsandgunsWILCOX: Well, the mainline congregations are declining. Their populations are aging, and so the question is what issues do you want to take on that might possibly divide your congregation? Would you take a risk of losing 10 percent of your members in a declining church by taking the prophetic stand about gun control at a time when gun control laws are probably not going to be stiffened?

SEVERSON: Rick Hellberg is a member of Pastor Tatgenhorst’s church. He supports his pastor’s position against gun violence but, unlike the pastor, he sees the Second Amendment as sacred. His rationale is quite common among opponents of government-sponsored gun control.

RICK HELLBERG: If part of my right to hold a gun is to protect myself from the potential tyranny of a government or a standing army—if that’s the case, then I should probably be able to be armed almost as well as those standing armies are. The NRA [National Rifle Association] takes the position that if we give an inch Washington will take a mile.

SEVERSON: But this isn’t coming from Washington. It’s coming from faith leaders who are trying to do what they say Washington and state governments haven’t done—curb gun violence.

ROYSTER: We’re not trying to prevent their business. We’re not trying to prevent them from selling guns. We’re not trying to prevent people who have a legal right to possess guns from possessing them. We just want to make sure they don’t get into the hands of the wrong people.

SEVERSON: While religious voices against gun control are getting louder, so are those on the other side…

Protesters: Sign the code!

SEVERSON: …who think that something needs to be done to stop the killing.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly I’m Lucky Severson in Philadelphia.

  • Eric S

    I see no mention of the fact that the so-called “Code of Conduct” has 2 points which are illegal for gun shops to do. They cannot keep a database of customers and they cannot maintain a video recording of customers. See State Statute 6111.4. The other 8 are already law.

    Meanwhile I see no action by Heed God’s Call towards the judical system that allows criminals to escape full responsibility for their crimes. I also don’t see them on the streets where the violence is most prevailent. No one is committing violent crimes in front of gunshops (I wonder why that is), but violence is being committed elsewhere. If stopping violent crime is the objective, make demands of the court system and make your displeasure known to those who are violent.

    At the rallies, we on the opposing side are barred from discussing the realities by the leadership of Heed God’s Call. I have twice been engaged in civil discourse with members of HGC when their leader physically moved them away from me. Nice, real nice… unsure of their position that they are required to not speak about the issue they are supposedly supporting. That is gutless and evidencing of a lack of solid ground upon which to support their convictions.

    We are very willing to engage in a civil debate with this leadeship but the challenge has been repeatedly declined. Are they afraid of the truth? Or just afraid their disinformation will be exposed? I sense a fear of both.

    This entire organization is nothing more than a feel-good endeavor that the membership has been duped into believing is serving a higher purpose. It serves no purpose and is actually a distraction from the real problem. This is energy that is being wasted when it could accomplish the goal to violence reduction if the task was presented upon the judical system. And it would double the numbers of protesting citizens. At this time we have two numerically equal and vocal groups pitted against one another. Bring this discord to a common ground, the judical system, and we will become allies in that goal.

  • Dave.T

    Nice one Eric : )

  • jan rose kasmir

    Please Google my name – I am the girl holding the flower up to the soldiers’ rifles from the ’67 March in Washington. i would very much like to lend my photo to the groups opposing the proliferation of guns. I would appreciate help in contacting Bishop Royster or any other persons involved in this important stand against the US’s insane need to play at being cowboys or gangsters – this is the nicest characterization I can put upon this insane behavior.

  • Jan Rose Kasmir

    I may have left my comment in the wrong place, so, forgive me as I repeat my resonse to Eric,

    Why is it that people can be so glib and sound so intelligent when they are defending the indefensible. Actually, Communism sounds good ON PAPER! So, Eric, you keep building your arguments until one of your family members is killed point blank with those guns you so heartily defend. If you have any humanity left in you, you will probably re-examine your support for the right of that person to have wielded the instrument of death.
    While it is true that Pandora’s box has been opened, and the proliferation of guns is overwhelming, we cannot stop fighting the proliferation of guns.
    Not only do we pollute our country with guns, we are the principal source for illegal guns in Mexico. How can we stop the killing when we are supplying the weapons of mass destruction, ONE GUN SHOP AT A TIME!
    We cannot give up the fight – remember, when Pandora belatedly closed the box, there was one more spirit still left inside that she heard and then freed. That spirit was hope!
    PS – The leaders are not gutless – I am sure they did not bother getting into a certain type of contest with a skunk… Why bother casting pearls before swine.
    And Dave T – I hope you don’t run into Eric in a dark ally – I am sure neither of you would survive the confrontation.

  • JJ Swiontek

    Dear Jan,

    The root cause of urban violence is drug prohibition. Guns are the tools of all prohibitions. Guns are also the tools of effective self-defense. While trying to stop the prohibition-related violence by banning the tools, you also ban the effective tools of self-defense.

    It would be better to attack the root cause… end all drug prohibition. Once that is done, the drug related violence will abate.

    Protesting gun sellers will not affect the violence.

  • jan rose kasmir

    JJ – I do not understand what you mean by drug prohibition in this context, and why you describe guns as the tool of all prohibitions. Prohibition is a function of the law.
    As for guns being the best self-defense, what about THE USE OF INTELLIGENT BEHAVIOR.
    I am sorry, but logic and morality seem to get lost in these meaningless use of self-serving justifications.
    Dealing with drug-related violence at the root level is a multi-faceted paradigm which includes treatment, and is only a small piece of the problem with our society’s need to tote guns. And YES! Hold the gun sellers responsible.
    Better to light one candle then curse the darkness – the gun problem is extremely complex, and can ONLY be attacked a piece at a time.
    FINALLY, RAISING CONSCIOUSNESS BY DEMONSTRATING IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. Encouraging citizens to think about the difficult issues is the beginning of change.
    Unfortunately, people who defend the right to wield guns will not change their minds UNTIL they are touched by personal tragedy. Sadly, that is human nature.

  • Russ T.

    Not to be confused with my father (who spoke for this article) I will point out that I can and do understand both sides of this argument. I do not like guns myself, and I agree they are horribly misused by many, too many. However, I agree with Eric that the focus is entirely wrong here. By making guns less accessible, you are not reducing crimes or murders, and at the very very least, you will only reduce the crimes committed with guns. A mollusk that loses it’s shell will likely seek another and then you have people dying who cannot defend themselves because they could not access something to defend themselves. I for one call myself a pacifist, and am likely to never own more than a single self-defense firearm myself, but I refuse to force martyrdom on citizens and my family who will pay with their very lives to prove that when guns are taken from honest people, only honest people will lack them, and that this protest is miserably misdirected. Eric was not necessarily supporting his love of guns, nor is anyone here. WE ARE NOT DEFENDING OUR GUNS, WE ARE DEFENDING OUR LIVES AND OUR HOMES. The “precious guns” that Eric supports are supported because he will not stand by and let his loved ones die. The issue here is the same as the one you brought up Miss Jan, communism sounds good, but everyone must agree to it and abide to it, or it will work for no one. You make it harder to obtain a firearm and the only people lacking them will be the people dying who would still be alive otherwise. A criminal does not care where a gun comes from, they will find one wherever they can. So in order to stop murder with guns, you must not only seek to make guns harder to possess, you cannot even seek to remove them entirely, as that is highly unrealistic, and in the end, they will only be replaced with more dangerous weapons. In order to make things better you must seek to change the people, spend these valuable resources on shelters, recreation centers, schools and places for people young and old to learn to accept one another. Stopping or slowing me or anyone else from purchasing a firearm just means that when someone comes to claim my life, I will be simply cut down before I can make an effort to defend my family, because the criminal just found a new outlet where mine was closed.

  • David T

    @Jan, I can honestly say three things, one I’m not worried about Eric in an alley way. It is highly unlikely that someone with his amount on knowledge is dumb enough to partake in such violent actions without just reasoning like self defense or so, two I don’t live anywhere near an alley way so it doesn’t matter to me and three, the code is flawed. How does recording the purchaser of the weapon on video(which is illegal anyway) catch the guy who most likely isn’t in the store, the purchaser is already surrendering his information so if anything happens they can trace his information but that still won’t lead to the guy who is committing the crime (of murder,not straw purchase). unless he admits to it and gives up the information to the perpetrator.

  • Russ T.

    I’m sorry, but in a situation where someone has a gun to your family, intelligent behavior by itself will do nothing. I cannot defend my family with just my good intentions. The real problem is not the guns, it is the people using them.

  • Pastor Russ

    To both of my boys, Russ T. and Dave T. ….. You make me very proud.

  • Benjamin White

    If keeping track of who buys guns that are used illegally via video surveillance and information databases is illegal, why don’t we change the law? It seems like it would make it a lot easier to catch straw purchasers. I’m sure we could come up with some ways to protect the rights of the majority of gun purchasers who do not then break the law with their purchases. Seems like common sense to me. Can’t we figure this out?

  • Fran

    Just before Jesus was taken away to be impaled, one of those with Jesus reached out his hand and drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest and took off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Return your sword to its place, for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:51-52). We should take his words to heart, particularly in view of what is promised us at Psalms 37:10,11: “And just a little bit longer, and the wicked will be no more; and you will certainly give attention to his place, and he will not be. But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth, and they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.” Amen to that! But that will only be accomplished by God’s Kingdom or heavenly government. Man’s governments do not have the love or the power to do so.

  • Bill

    What i find odd here is that most of the people who have responded here really do not know what is involved in the process of actually buying a gun.. When you buy a gun you have to fill out a series of paperwork required by federal law and that same law requires you to answer all the questions TRUTHFULLY !! under penalty of law.. After filling out all the paperwork the dealer calls a phone number that is run by the State Police and all the info is given to them and an instant police background check is performed and if the person does not have a criminal record they are allowed to complete the sale.. If they do have a criminal record the cops will be showing up as the purchaser is still in the store.. Now let say you are the buyer and have answered all the questions correctly and you do not have a criminal record and you tell me that you are buying this for yourself !! How can i ever possibly know you are lying to me and you are in fact buying it to give to someone who can not legally buy the gun…. In replying to Fran’s comments on May 14th at 2:46am When Jesus told his apostle to return his sword to it place (sheath) this tell me that one of his apostles did in fact carry a Sword!! a Very Deadly Weapon at its time so it also tell me that Jesus was not against defense of ones self or others.. I believe that organized religion has lost their way and are failing today.. Violence, Teenagers having babies, Abortion, Crime & Murder are a result of our churches failing and now they are becoming more political trying to get government to try and legislate morality.. God gave us 10 simple rules to live by and Jesus gave us one to cover all to LOVE ALL but this message is lost because the churches have lost focus.. I have legally carried a firearm since 1974 and in that time 4 situations caused me to have to draw my gun THANKFULLY i have never had to pull the trigger but i have always wondered what would have happened if i did not have my gun?? Can anyone out there tell me i would not have been harmed or worse killed.. I will say one thing for Mayor Nutter he really hit the nail on the head when he told the citizens & parents of Philadelphia to step up and get their acts together and i applaud him for it.. I pray for the day when everyone will Love thy neighbor and there is peace in the world… Then i can enjoy going to the range and shooting my guns because i like to shoot targets… GOD BLESS YOU ALL !!