After several months of discussion and planning, Neighborhood Partners to End Gun Violence (NPEG) held its inaugural protest Tuesday night outside of Delia’s Gun Shop in Northeast Philadelphia.
As rush-hour traffic whizzed by on Torresdale Avenue, more than 50 members of the Northwest-based interfaith group flashed signs urging owner Fred Delia to adopt and post a non-binding code of conduct. Following such a code, members argue, will help stop guns bought in gun shops from being re-sold on the street.
“Honk to end gun violence,” read one sign. “Illegal guns kill our cops,” read another.
The ten-point code, created by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, asks stores to videotape all transactions, run criminal background checks on all employees and keep better track of inventory, among other things.
Delia, who’s owned the namesake shop for decades, refused to sign the code during a recent meeting with NPEG. Less than two weeks later, the grassroots group took to the streets.
“It feels good to be out here and together. It’s easy to talk the talk and we want to walk the walk,” said NPEG’s co-coordinator Linda Noonan, a pastor at Chestnut Hill United Church.
In particular, NPEG is following in the footsteps of other gun control groups loosely connected to one another through the small, but battle-tested organization Heeding God’s Call.
That group, headed by Bryan Miller, director of Ceasefire NJ, has been applauded by fellow activists as being influential in the closing of the controversial Colosimo’s Gun Center in 2009. Closing down gun shops, however, is not the ultimate goal of NPEG or other groups associated with Heeding God’s Call.
For Miller, the goal is two-fold. First and foremost, it’s about persuading shops like Delia’s to post and practice the code. But he said it’s also about education.
“A lot of people sort of think guns fall from the sky in the street corner and that’s how they’re used,” he said. “Through this, we educate people that there’s a highly developed illegal distribution system that starts at gun shops like this.”
Rabbi Linda Holtzman, who heads Mishkan Shalom synagogue in Roxborough, said the group chose to target Delia’s after research convinced members it was a problem gun shop. An Inquirer article by columnist Monica Yant-Kinney, which contained interviews with sources familiar with the black market, was the starting point for that research.
Holtzman said she doesn’t think Tuesday’s demonstration was unwarranted, or that the group’s request was unreasonable.
“It’s getting gun shop owners to sign and say they will be more careful about who they sell guns to. That’s all we’re doing,” said Holtzman. “We’re saying be careful so that the guns that you sell don’t end up on the street. If they just do that, it’s at least one small step.”
In an interview the day of the demonstration, Delia said he already does enough to ensure guns sold at his shop are done so by the book.
“I don’t know what they’re after,” he said. “If I was doing anything wrong I would have been in jail long ago. I’m doing everything according to [state and federal license]… There’s not much more I can do.”
Delia says he also works closely with the city’s Gun Violence Task Force to stop people who can legally buy guns at his store from turning them over to those that can’t. In particular, he said he will call the agency if he thinks a particular purchase warrants some investigation.
A small group of long-time customers of Delia’s vouched for the store’s safety precautions as they watched the peaceful protest unfold.
“You couldn’t find more responsible, ethical dealers in the United States,” said John Kevlock, who’s shopped at Delia’s for more than 30 years. “They deal with police all the time. They cooperate with law enforcement all the time. I’ve been here when ATF comes to check their records. They really go an extra mile on those things.”
Even so, members of Neighborhood Partners say they will continue to hold bi-monthly protests until Delia changes his mind about following the code.
The group’s next protest will be next Tuesday, March 1, 4:30-5:30 p.m.