Citing frustration with the legislature's reluctance to pass tough laws against "straw" handgun purchases, a coalition of religious leaders stood outside a gun store yesterday and announced a plan to pressure retailers directly.
"We . . . cannot stand by while towns and cities suffer senseless violence," said Bishop Allen Bartlett, assisting bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.
He was joined on the sidewalk in front of Colosimo's Gun Center in the 900 block of Spring Garden Street by representatives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Friends Yearly Meeting, and a synagogue.
Called "Heeding God's Call," a group of about a dozen area religious institutions is urging Pennsylvania gun retailers to sign a 10-point "code of conduct" to curb the supply of weapons to criminals.
The code, created in April by a national coalition of mayors, drew national attention when Wal-Mart - the largest seller of rifles and shotguns in the country - signed a document agreeing to abide by its rules.
Dealers who take the pledge agree to:
Videotape all their firearms transactions.
Participate in a computerized gun-trace log that will identify buyers whose previous purchases were used in crimes.
Conduct criminal background checks on employees and train them in ways to deter illegal purchasers.
Accept only federal or state photo IDs.
"We don't expect gun violence to end when everybody signs," Bartlett said yesterday, but he predicted " 'straw' buying will diminish" in areas where retailers sign the code.
"Straw" buyers purchase guns legally, then sell or trade them to criminals.
Yesterday's news conference was the start of the coalition's six-day gun-violence symposium, centered at the Arch Street Meeting House, Fourth and Arch Streets. On Saturday, Heeding God's Call will host a daylong program of prayer, education and public demonstrations, including a public march.
The coalition leaders said they held their news conference outside Colosimo's because James Colosimo, the longtime owner of the shop, had refused to sign the code.
The shop rolled down its steel gates moments before the news conference began.
Interviewed later at his shop, Colosimo, 77, said he had not signed because his lawyers advised him that the computerized tracing system was illegal and that other requirements in the code could be unconstitutional.
Bryan Miller, a coalition spokesman and director of the anti-gun-violence group Ceasefire New Jersey, said the computer system, which is still in development, is "emphatically not" illegal. The data, he added, would not be available to the public.
Colosimo acknowledged that a significant number of handguns sold at his shop have been discovered to have been used in crimes. However, he said, that is because of the shop's large sales volume for decades.
"We sell 100 times more than some other stores," he said, adding that the shop has had contracts with "at least 250" Pennsylvania and New Jersey police departments during the last six decades, including Philadelphia's.
He said he believed it was unfair to deny guns to prospective buyers simply because their previous purchases had been used in crimes.
"Suppose you came in here 10 years ago and bought five guns," he said. "And you lose one of them, or it's stolen, and five years later it's used in a robbery. Does that mean I shouldn't sell it to you?"
Miller said that retailers who signed the pledge still could "use discretion" in such situations.
"If somebody reported a gun lost or stolen and you trusted him," he said, "you could still sell."