Against a backdrop of holsters and shotguns, the three clergymen wearing clerical collars and wooden crosses put the question to Clyde Blamberg, owner of Clyde’s Sport Shop.
Would he sign a 10-point code of conduct, Episcopal Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton asked?
“We’re not interested,” Blamberg said.
Weeks of meetings, memos, soul-searching and strategizing had taken the interfaith group to that moment, and though they talked with the white-haired shop-owner about the law and morality and exchanged business cards and shook hands, Blamberg never really budged. The religious leaders tried to paint the problem in the starkest of terms.
“I’ve buried several young people in Baltimore who’ve been victims of gun violence and several of those guns have been traced back to legal purchases that have fallen into the wrong hands,” said Bishop Douglas I. Miles, of Koinonia Baptist Church and the co-chair of the Baltimore Interfaith Coalition.
Blamberg and his wife Jean Blamberg, along with brother and co-owner Bill Blamberg listened from behind the counter and shook their heads.
The faith leaders are targeting the half-century-old Baltimore County store because it has been described in a study using data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms as the leading in-state seller of guns traced to crimes in Baltimore. According to that study, and the ATF, about 40 percent of guns traced to crimes in major cities had been legally purchased from a gun shop in the prior three years.
The point of the 10-part code is to prevent “straw purchases,” guns bought people with clean backgrounds who then pas them to others who use them to commit crimes.
“You need to take this to Annapolis and let the legislators choose. We abide by all the Maryland laws, and all the federal laws,” Blamberg said, showing the men the forms buyers must fill out.
“It’s not a legislative issue, it’s a moral one,” Sutton said.
The delegation that came into the shop, included Sutton, Miles, Rev. Jack Sharpe, president of the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council, and Bryan Morris, director of public advocacy for Heeding God’s Call, the faith-based group from Philadelphia.
Outside, about a dozen others from the interfaith group demonstrated on the narrow sidewalk in front of the store on Hammonds Ferry Road. (A Baltimore County police officer was also standing by out there.)
Inside, things weren’t going too well, from the protesters’ point of view. Blamberg said most of the guns criminals use were probably stolen from legal purchasers.
“We do everything, basically that’s on that list, ” Blamberg said, (although he told The Arbutus Times previously that he has not adopted some of the recommended measures, such as videotaping transactions, because he is not required to do so.)
“We’ve been selling firearms for 42 years, guys,” Blamberg said. “We wouldn’t be here this long if we were doing anything wrong.”
Miles said “We’re not accusing you of doing anything illegal.”
“But we get that impression!” Blamberg interjected. “Why do we get that impression?”
Miles, trying at one point to appeal to the brothers’ sense of leadership (or perhaps vanity), noted that the group plans to ask all Maryland gun shops to adopt the code and that, if Clyde’s did so, they would be the first.
“It would lift you head and shoulders above every other gun shop in the state,” Miles said.
“We’re not going to do that,” Bill Blamberg replied quickly. “We’re not going to be first!”
Afterwards, Sutton said he was glad Blamberg let them enter the store and talk, though disappointed he did not relent and sign the document. They plan to return on Nov. 21 with more people in the hopes of convincing Blamberg to change his mind.
“We hope he hears god’s call to protect god’s children from gun violence,” said the Rev. Dr. Peter K. Nord, executive presbyter, Presbytery of Baltimore, leading a prayer outside the store afterwards.
Miles agreed it was “an important first step in what’s going to be a long process,” but had a somewhat more jaundiced view of the day’s encounter.
A car alarm in the Clyde’s parking lots suddenly started blaring cutting short the group’s post-protest prayer, and singing of “This Little Light of Mine” and “Amazing Grace.”
Asked about it, as the protesters hastened back to their cars to escape the din, Miles observed drily: “that was not coincidence.”