Boulder Mennonites Turn Donated Guns Into Garden Tools

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — There was healing in the swing of a hammer at Boulder Mennonite Church on Good Friday.

Dozens of community members gathered for a vigil to pray, reflect and remember 10 victims of a mass shooting at the nearby King Soopers on March 22.

The event was accompanied by the steady clang of a hammer as people took turns forming disassembled guns into garden tools a quarter of a mile away from where the shooting occurred. Boulder Mennonite Church is just across Broadway.

Colorado Springs-based RAWtools travels the state and country offering demonstrations, nonviolence training and action steps related to gun violence. These demonstrations are a central part of what they do — taking donated guns, disassembling them, heating the metal in a forge and turning them into tools, a literal application of a verse from the book of Isaiah in the Bible: “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”

The vigil was spurred by the mass shooting, said Pastor Randy Spaulding. The church had initially planned a short Good Friday service, and then March 22 happened. Mike Martin, founder and executive director of RAWtools, reached out and offered to come by, as did other faith leaders.

“We said yes, let us take a swing and hammer the hell out of a gun and turn it into something that will be used to heal the earth, cultivate, nurture,” Spaulding said.

Many of the church’s members shop at that King Soopers and know the victims, he said.

People are often grateful for the chance to take a swing at a gun, Martin said. He started RAWtools eight years ago, after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“We do respect thoughts and prayers, but we also feel like that has to lead to action. We can make prayers and we can make statements, but if we don’t do anything beyond that, then we’re still falling a little bit short,” he said.

“We offer an opportunity that doesn’t require to wait on legislation, it’s an open invitation for people to exchange their guns for garden tools but more than that an open invitation to imagine different ways to solve our conflicts,” he continued.

The guns used in the demonstration were donated by Colorado residents, Martin said.

The experience brought tears to Lafayette resident Holly Varga’s eyes. She had felt the impact of the shooting, she said, but coming to Boulder, visiting the memorial and hammering a gun among other community members brought new meaning.

“I had no idea it was going to be this powerful just to be with people,” she said. “You see that there are really ways to make a difference. I’ve reconnected with how important it is to express through action.”