Churches urge citizens to turn in guns

November 16, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

They come to her in tears, the teen-age girls whose boyfriends are dying on the streets of Baltimore.

Yesterday, Wanda Moore bowed her head and prayed for all the East Baltimore girls she's counseled, the ones who cry, the ones who try to act cool, and the ones who accept the shootings as normal.

The 50-year-old social worker carried a hand-lettered sign to a sparsely attended ecumenical service at Old Otterbein United Methodist Church that spelled out her feelings: "Turn in the Guns. Stop the tears. Stop the Violence."

With hymns, prayer and quiet reflection, about 60 people kicked off a citywide campaign to stop handgun violence.

Signs were placed at the pulpit, a deaf choir sang in sign language and ministers filled Old Otterbein -- the city's oldest surviving church -- with shouts of praise during the hourlong service to encourage Baltimoreans to give up their firearms.

"We're talking about saving a civilization from self-destruction," said the Rev. Michael B. Curry, rector of St. James Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square. "Those who live by the sword will die by the sword. I don't want to bury any more children who are killed on the streets."

The campaign to stop the violence began in two very different Christian congregations, North Baltimore's Stony Run Friends Meeting and West Baltimore's Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial United Methodist Church. More than 100 churches, civic groups, the city Police Department and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke have joined the effort, called "Turn in the Guns," planned to coincide with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Father Curry and a half-dozen other ministers pledged yesterday to fast, pray and preach the message from their pulpits that all city residents should turn in their guns Jan. 17 and 18. A private security firm will collect the guns at the McKim Community Center at 1120 E. Baltimore St. with no questions asked.

The first gun has already been turned in. The Rev. Douglas B. Sands, minister of the King Memorial church, said he found a sawed-off shotgun in one of the pews yesterday morning. He turned it over to the police, and prayed for more.

"We just want to get people together," he said, looking at the half-empty pews at Old Otterbein. "It's pretty clear the guns are the problem, in our homes as well as on the streets."

Gun-control advocates have long argued that firearms are more dangerous to their owners than to criminals and cite as evidence 11,000 suicides and 1,800 accidental deaths involving guns each year. But the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun lobbyists contend guns are used defensively more often than criminally.

Benny Crump, a Baltimore police officer who attended yesterday's service, said many city residents will be afraid to turn in their guns.

Just last week, an 88-year-old salesman became the city's 287th homicide victim when he died of a heart attack during a mugging. The stories are too real, and too wrenching, for those who keep guns in their homes for protection, Officer Crump said.

But he and others emphasized that every effort counts. Pat Lindh, a 38-year-old speech pathologist and social worker who counsels children in three Baltimore elementary schools, said she could not miss the service.

"Every child I've ever worked with has been touched by violence," said the Catonsville resident. "I can't not attend fTC something like this."

Baltimore tried a gun-collection campaign a decade ago, offering a $50 bounty for every weapon. The city collected 8,013 weapons before ending the program -- unable to get a federal grant to support it.

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