I recently heard a priest talk about the biblical quote, “. . . they shall beat their swords into plowshares” and what that can mean for all of us. Literally it means that we should take our guns and instruments of harm and killing and reform them into tools that aid life, specifically garden tools. Instead of taking a life, give people something to help their lives. Garden tools can be used to grow life-sustaining food and flowers to give joy. The retired Rt. Rev. Jim Curry Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, is turning the message of Isaiah 2:4 — “they shall beat their swords into plowshares” — into a literal lesson, melting down guns forfeited during buybacks and turning them into gardening tools. Jun 25, 2021 https://www.episcopalnewsservice.org/2021/11/16/bishop-blacksmithing-crew-melt-guns-for-garden-tools-in-swords-to-plowshares-demonstration/
Bishop Curry is a founding member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence. He travels throughout the Northeast to demonstrate how they melt down guns and turn them into gardening tools. The nonprofit he co-founded in 2017, Swords to Plowshares Northeast, is centered on the process.
The organization takes its name from Isaiah 2:4 – “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” Swords to Plowshares promotes gun safety with a visual, tangible ministry that Curry says is both practical and symbolic.
In the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy, the Connecticut bishops joined with bishops in other dioceses that were grieving mass shootings and formed Bishops United Against Gun Violence. The network, with more than 100 member bishops, now is a leading churchwide voice of advocacy for gun safety legislation and common sense precautions, like gun locks and safes. The bishops also memorialize the victims of gun violence and offer prayers and pastoral care to survivors.
The mobile blacksmithing forge that Curry and his team use is fired by propane, and their blacksmithing tools include hammers, tongs, chisels and anvils. They take the barrels of rifles, pistols and shotguns and heat them in the forge and then reshape the malleable metal into hand tools. Trowels, shaped from shotgun barrels, are relatively easy, according to Curry. It takes 10 to 15 minutes to get the rough shape. Revolvers and rifles typically are made from heavier metals, which take more time to mold, he said. The blacksmiths then grind the metal to complete the tool.
The idea for Swords to Plowshares was inspired by a Mennonite blacksmithing ministry in Colorado called RAWtools. Its motto: “Disarm hearts. Forge peace. Cultivate justice.” After hearing about RAWtools’ efforts to collect surrendered weapons and melt them down, Curry went to apprentice with them.
Curry and his team now partner with police agencies and other local groups to organize gun buybacks, at which guns can be surrendered with no questions asked, in exchange for cash or other compensation. After the weapons are transformed into gardening tools, Swords to Plowshares donates them to community gardens.
Curry said, and this transformation that ends the guns’ existence can be emotionally powerful for observers. At a recent session, “as the gardeners saw us making tools and received tools from us, they were just in tears,” Curry said. “The larger message is, as a society we don’t have to be bound by violence.”
Curry acknowledged that the organization can only melt down guns that are surrendered, leaving plenty of guns out of the organization’s reach in a country where unfortunately 40% of homes have guns and worse yet, 60% of the 40,000 gun deaths each year in the United States are suicides. “
He also lamented the hundreds of people wounded or killed in the U.S. annually in accidental shootings; guns also are prime targets for thefts from homes. In response, Swords to Plowshares works with its community partners to encourage gun owners to obtain locks and safes to secure their firearms.
“If people can rethink their need to have unsecured guns in their house, then we’re really changing the understanding of the place of guns in our lives,” he said.
Destroying guns is the most direct way Swords to Plowshares fulfills its mission. Curry and his team do not just talk the talk, they very much walk the walk.
That process conveys “a real sense of transformation,” he said. “That’s what gives hope.”
One more reason to wear orange. September is Hunger Awareness Month. People are asked to wear orange in order to draw attention to our hungry neighbors.
The real and lasting victories are those of peace, and not of war.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson