BALTIMORE – Rev. Hollis Neal says he’s tired of ducking bullets on Saturday mornings after choir practice.
But Neal, pastor of First Charity Baptist Church in East Baltimore, admits to feeling safer than many in his congregation who live in housing projects near the church and sometimes must drop to the floor in their own living rooms.
“I represent a group of people who feel powerless,” Neal says.
He was one of 40 black ministers who attended a prayer breakfast Thursday to help muster support for Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s gun-control legislation.
Pastors who came to the 7 a.m. event in the basement of Mt. Ararat Baptist Church in Northwest Baltimore were fed scrambled eggs, sausage and hash browns, then exhorted to show up — along with their congregations — for a Statehouse rally on Monday organized by gun-control advocates.
Glendening was expected to speak at a second prayer breakfast today at Hemingway Memorial A.M.E. Church in Prince George’s County.
The governor’s legislative package include measures that would require handgun buyers to obtain a license, limit purchases to one a month and mandate background checks and seven-day waiting periods for second-hand sales.
Special guests at Thursday’s breakfast were Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland State Police Superintendent David Mitchell and Baltimore City Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier.
“I believe in my heart of hearts people can be rationale,” Townsend said in remarks to pastors. “But I also know that in politics numbers matter. So I hope that on Monday, we get the numbers out there.
“Please come, please organize,” she urged, gesturing with clenched hands.
Her father, the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and uncle, President John F. Kennedy, were both assassinated by gunmen.
Later, Townsend posed for a photograph with members of the 100-year-old church where Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke learned the Boy Scout pledge.
“Brothers and sisters we know how serious this is,” said the Rev. John L. Wright, pastor of First Baptist Church of Guilford in Howard County. “I think all of us have a story to tell about someone we know who was victimized by handgun violence.”
Wright is also leader of the United Missionary Baptist Convention, which he said represents 300 churches with half a million members across the state.
Frazier, the police commissioner, promised a new focus on gun arrests in Baltimore this year and said pastors would be asked to join in a special block-by-block effort.
Then Vincent DeMarco, community director for Handgun Control Inc., a sponsor of the breakfasts and rally, named 12 Baltimore- area lawmakers he said have declined to sign on as co-sponsors of the governor’s bills.
Bob McMurray, chairman of the Maryland Committee Against the Gun Ban, declined in a telephone interview to discuss his group’s lobbying plans in the coming weeks. McMurry said he usually lets the other side “play all their chess pieces first.” He did say the National Rifle Association was planning a rally at the Statehouse on Feb. 16. -30-