Church collects firearms

St. Gregory the Great in Sandtown hopes event suppresses violence in city

May 27, 2007|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,sun reporter

As Mayor Sheila Dixon pushes to combat violent crime by reducing the number of illegal guns on city streets, a West Baltimore church collected 15 firearms yesterday, in an event organizers said they hope will be repeated throughout the year.

Drawn into action by a steady increase in city homicides that has come despite aggressive enforcement tactics employed by police, St. Gregory the Great Church accepted guns for four hours, "no questions asked," paying a $50 reward to those who came, courtesy of a local law firm.

"It's at a point where these are drastic times, and we need drastic measures," said Monsignor Damien Nalepa, the church's pastor.

"We can't just have people talking for talk's sake, we need some action. The community is demanding it."

The Catholic church, located on N. Gilmor Street in the Sandtown-Winchester area, has been involved with numerous community anti-violence initiatives and events in the past, including similar "gun turn in" days in the 1990s, when the number of annual homicides in Baltimore reached the 300 mark.

Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm will attend a forum Saturday at a senior center next door to the church to discuss gangs and other community issues.

Hamm and Dixon have put guns at the center of a new effort to reduce violence in the city.

The mayor has proposed reforming a police unit that will trace illegal weapons back to where they were sold, require residents with gun-related convictions to register their addresses with police, and track data on firearms crimes with a new program called GunStat.

Parts of the plan have yet to be approved by the City Council.

Noting that a man was killed around the corner from the church yesterday morning, Nalepa declared the collection of 15 guns a success, "one small way to deal with the problem."

A roughly equal number of men and women came to drop off a variety of rifles and handguns, many of which had been passed down from relatives, Nalepa said.

They said they hoped to keep them out of children's hands.

Nalepa declined a request to interview donors, saying he didn't want to discourage them.

Despite police programs allowing people to turn in weapons, many said they were nervous about taking them out on the street, a testament to the importance of the church's involvement in the transaction, he said.

Alenthia Epps, a volunteer at St. Gregory the Great who lives in Woodstock, added:

"Right now, the violence is escalating so much. Prayerfully, if we can get three guns off the street, that's possible three less homicides, three less crimes against another person. We're trying to get our brothers and sisters to come together. Not killing one another, but living in peace."

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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