Swords to Plowshares: Forging Surrendered Guns into Gardening Tools in Connecticut

In the garden of a New Haven artist’s studio, two bishops, one priest, and a sculptor destroyed 138 guns. These guns were voluntarily surrendered in a municipal buyback program sponsored by the Yale-New Haven Hospital and the New Haven Police Department in December 2017. This was the largest gun buyback New Haven has seen since it began its buyback program in 2011. The difference: these guns would be turned into gardening tools.

Steve Yanovsky, Communications Director for the Newtown Foundation, decided to pursue this endeavor here in Connecticut and connected with the Rt. Rev. James Curry, retired Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut (ECCT), who has been involved with the movement against gun violence for years. “We can choose differently for our neighborhoods,” Bishop Curry said.

“This isn’t a 2nd amendment issue because folks were invited to turn in their guns to be turned into gardening tools. This is a new understanding.” Bishop Curry reached out to Officer David Hartman of the New Haven Police, and the Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, Bishop Diocesan of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, to make concrete steps in the process of turning guns into plowshares.

Bishops Douglas and Curry destroying guns in New Haven.

Monday morning, surrounded by New Haven police officers and various media crews, Bishops Curry and Douglas, the Rev. Bob Bergner, Priest-in-Charge at Grace and St. Peter’s, Hamden, and Gar Waterman, renowned sculptor and owner of the studio, dissembled 138 guns. The stocks were removed and put into one pile, trigger guards and hammers removed, and the remaining pieces of the gun and barrels sawed in two; all parts to be forged into forks, shovels, spades, and other gardening tools.

The organization behind this process and idea is RAWtools, Inc., based in Colorado Springs, CO, which started three months after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Their mission: Disarm Hearts. Forge Peace.With financial support from ECCT, Mike Martin, founder and Executive Director of RAWtools, brought his expertise, two blacksmiths, and two forges, the hearths used to heat the metal, to New Haven and created a pop-up blacksmithing station at the New Haven Police Department.

Two blacksmiths from Virginia, accompanying Martin, trained inmates in the New Haven Correction Center to forge the guns into gardening tools, a hopefully cathartic experience for many. “They picked up how to make the tools in only four hours,” Martin said at a press conference on Thursday, September 20.

Yanovsky said that “the idea of taking a weapon of death and turning it into a tool to sustain life is the ultimate human affirming experience.” Yanovsky was first introduced to the swords into plowshares concept and RAWtools, back in 2016 when the Rev. Jeremy Lucas, Episcopal priest in Portland, OR, won an AR-15 in a softball team’s raffle and surrendered it to RAWtools to be forged. That AR-15 was forged into three gardening tools, one presented to the Newtown Action Alliance.

“This is so tangible,” Bishop Douglas said about the process of working with his hands (pictured) to dissemble the guns. “To take the implements of death and destruction and turning them into tools to bring forth life, like in Micah – swords into plowshares – it is more than just a metaphor.” Bishop Douglas said that a large part of his ministry here in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut has been focused on guns, “This is just a wrinkle of learning about guns and our community,” he said.

Later that evening, Bishop Douglas and Rt. Rev. Laura J. Ahrens, Bishop Suffragan, were invited by Roy McAdoo of Trinity, Collinsville to the Simsbury Shooting Range. This separate event was an invitation encouraged by McAdoo and others at a June 16 conversation with ECCT gun owners at Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford. Destroy guns in the morning, shoot guns in the evening; a paradox not lost on Douglas. “It is important for me to learn more about all aspects of guns in ECCT, so I can speak with more integrity, wisdom, and authenticity,” he said.

Bishop Laura J. Ahrens at the Simsbury Shooting Range.
Bishop Ian T. Douglas at the Simsbury Shooting Range.

The New Haven-based non-profit construction and landscaping company EMERGE, which hires recently paroled individuals for 6 – 9 months, and provides personal development and mental health programs, hopes to become involved with the Swords to Plowshares program, offering blacksmithing as a new skill for their staff.

After the guns have been forged (pictured), they will be shipped back to RAWtools to have handles added, and to be labeled. Martin believes around 150 – 200 farming tools will come from the weapons destroyed on Monday.

“Gun violence is a gun and a heart problem,” Martin said. “For me this act of turning guns into farming tools is a spiritual practice and partnership with the Holy Spirit. We need help of those around us and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” Every tool will be assigned a number and marked, so people can see just how many tools have been made from guns.

Bishop Curry and Yanovsky hope to present these tools to local agricultural high schools and community garden plots in New Haven in early spring, just in time for the planting season. While this is the pilot test for swords to plowshares with municipalities, Yanovsky and Bishop Curry hope to begin with all cities in Connecticut, then continue to expand this to all of New England.

From left: Steve Yanovsky, Mike Martin, & Bishop Jim Curry

“We no longer have to be tied to the instruments of death, but rather of growth and life,” Bishop Curry said at Thursday’s press conference, which was met with an “Amen” from the crowd. “God has been good to us to get us this far.”

Forging began Wednesday, September 19, and will continue through the week. There was a press conference on Thursday, September 20. On Friday, September 21, there was a planned public event to showcase the newly forged tools.

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