‘Melt Thy Rifles Into Garden Tools’

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

Patricia Brown, writing for the NYT Opinion section:

The venerable art of blacksmithing is not generally considered to be a radical act. But for Michael Martin, a 36-year-old Mennonite from Colorado Springs, the malleability of glowing metal from a forge’s inferno makes it the perfect vehicle for addressing gun violence.

Mr. Martin, a former youth pastor, was inspired to learn blacksmithing after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012, in which a deranged young man with an AR-15 assault rifle killed 20 children and six educators. Three months later, Mr. Martin started Raw Tools, a nonprofit organization dedicated to converting the “swords” of contemporary America — handguns, assault weapons and semiautomatic rifles — into garden tools, or erstwhile plowshares, at once fulfilling the Old Testament mandate and forging a new kind of public ritual for processing grief.

Raw Tools has been on my radar since its inception in 2012 (after the Sandy Hook massacre) because of Shane Claiborne. I was thrilled to see it pop up in the NYT (albeit in the Opinion section).

This project is hands down my favorite literal application of something from the Bible. Prophets like Isaiah (2:4) and Micah (4:3) from the Hebrew scriptures envision the world without war, where instruments of violence can be turned into garden tools. I would normally caution readers of the Bible before taking any specific section too literally, but this is beautiful and necessary.

As a Mennonite, Mr. Martin comes from a long tradition of nonviolence and considers his work a form of conscientious objection (“raw” is “war” spelled backward). The first gun he converted into a garden tool came from a friend in Colorado Springs who wanted to get rid of an AK-47 he had bought for protection after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Since then, Raw Tools has transformed several hundred guns, with help from a “disarming network” of volunteer blacksmiths around the country. With the exception of a tattoo on his arm in which “War No More” is scribbled on a fig, Mr. Martin resembles the tools he makes — simple, direct and without embellishment. He relies on small grants from local foundations and Mennonite organizations. “Our work,” he said, “is about a cultural shift, to get communities and neighborhoods to rethink the tools they use to keep themselves safe.”

Discussion off