- Casey Bradley Gent
Some biblical scriptures exhort followers to beat their swords and spears into useful tools for living (Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3). Michael Martin takes those directives literally. Together with his father, Fred, who is the lead blacksmith, the Martins accept privately donated weapons, turn them into garden tools, and return them to their owners, for free. They call the organization Raw Tools.
"Nobody's for gun violence," says Martin. "They just have different ways to try to address it."
Martin grew up north of the Springs, in Black Forest. He was the youth pastor at Beth-El Mennonite Church in Colorado Springs before he took a year off in 2011 to find his true calling. He started Raw Tools after the tragic 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, took the lives of 20 kids and six adults.
"In the future," he says, "I'd like to see Raw Tools around the world."
Eventually, he wants to work with law enforcement to turn large numbers of weapons into tools.
"I can't talk about it too much, but there are police organizations around the country that are interested," he says.
Martin acknowledges that the large-scale upcycling of guns might make it difficult, if not impossible, to produce tools for individuals from specific weapons. His solution is to provide the background story behind each tool to its new owner.
"I want to open a dialogue around gun violence. You can't take it entirely out of politics, but you can make it more personal by encouraging people to hear each other's stories before jumping to conclusions," he says. "Why did you buy a gun? There's a story there."
According to Martin, working with large numbers of weapons could afford each future Raw Tools organization the ability to use excess metal to create art, which could be sold to help fund its mission and raise money.
"Raw Tools is driven by three facets: Turn guns into garden tools, educate the community in active, non-violent confrontation and restorative justice, and focus on local communities to provide for social and physical support networks," explains Martin.
More than just a two-man show, Raw Tools is a faith-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit, with an eight-person board of directors, all of whom are connected to the local faith community. The board helps direct Raw Tools' participation in events nationwide, demonstrating the process of creating peaceful tools from tools of violence.
PeaceMaker events, for example, are hour-long ceremonies during which a garden tool is forged from a gun, while scripture, songs and stories are shared.
The public can't yet interface with the group at an office or storefront, but there is ongoing discussion about creating such a spot, and seeking volunteer support. Meanwhile, follow the group at facebook.com/RAWToolsInc for updates.