Churches push gun turn-ins 100 congregations involved in drive against violence

It starts with the idea that there are just too many guns on Baltimore's streets.

It branches out to include violence of many kinds in American culture: bloodletting in movies and on television; the abuse of human beings, including little children, that arises from the abuse of alcohol and drugs; a breakdown of manners and domestic civility; even the "economic violence" of racism.


The campaign to do something about the violence began slowly and separately 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.

Now, as many as 100 churches, several civic organizations, the city Police Department and City Hall are all involved in the effort, called "Turn In The Guns," which will have a ceremonial beginning Sunday afternoon.


"What's at issue -- fundamentally -- is that somehow we have to learn how to de-escalate social and cultural violence," said the Rev. Michael B. Curry, rector of St. James Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square.

Father Curry will be the preacher for the coalition's first public event, called a "citywide interfaith service," at 3 p.m. Sunday in Old Otterbein United Methodist Church, West Conway and Sharp streets, near the Inner Harbor.

The organizers hope that public support in the pulpits and pews of synagogues and churches, and wherever else concerned citizens congregate, will snowball, so that on Jan. 17 and 18 many Baltimoreans will be persuaded to take all the guns in their possession to the McKim Recreation Center at 1120 E. Baltimore St.

The idea is that anyone may drop off guns with "no questions asked." While city police support the program -- and the weapons eventually will be turned over to the Police Department -- officers will not be present at the McKim center.

A privately operated security firm has been hired to receive the guns.

The reason for this, explained Neil Saunders of the Stony Run Meeting, is to avoid any chance -- despite assurances -- that possession of the weapons could lead to criminal prosecution.

Father Curry is realistic about the goals of the program. "We don't seriously believe that enough people will turn in guns to XTC stop all the bloody, senseless violence," he said. "But even if only one person turns in a gun, a life could be saved."

His real hope, the priest said, is that "the symbolic gesture" being planned for January, to coincide with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, will lead to more and more people reflecting on the violence in American culture.


"In the media, TV, the movies, even in ads on the sides of buildings, we glorify violence," Father Curry said.

"We are all guilty," he said. "It is irresponsible."

The Rev. Douglas B. Sands, the Methodist pastor of the King Memorial church, where workshops on violence have been conducted for four years, said he sees the social and cultural violence that includes gun possession extending to "violence as it relates to white supremacy" in business and banking."

"A person who cannot become fully what he or she is capable of becoming because of racism is also the victim of a kind of violence," Mr. Sands said.

The Turn In The Guns campaign has broad backing and broad agenda. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Police Commissioner Edward Woods and State's Attorney Stuart Simms have given it their blessing.

Among the sponsors are the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council, the American Friends Service Committee, Clergy United for the Revitalization of East Baltimore and Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse.