A group that turns guns into garden tools has been to Happy Valley before, but Wednesday’s visit had more significance for the organizers and community members who attended.
A crowd of about 40 attended the Beating Guns tour at The Makery in downtown State College, organized by Ben Wideman, campus minister at Penn State and leader of 3rd Way Collective, who said he wanted to open up a dialogue after the death of four in January and the Osaze Osagie shooting last month.
State College was one of 37 stops on the Beating Guns tour, which features a live welding demonstration that transforms a gun into a garden tool, as well as community speakers, musical acts and story sharing.
Singing hymns of peace, local pastors walked with the crowd to the welding forge, which was set up across the street in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza.
Shane Claiborne and Michael Martin, pioneers of the Beating Guns tour and authors of the book by the same name, established an organization called Raw Tools that takes donated guns and turns them into gardening tools. Wednesday marked the third time Raw Tools visited State College.
“What we’re doing tonight is much deeper than transforming a piece of metal,” Claiborne said. “We’re giving space for public lament and grief and (for) people to channel their anger and pain from gun violence into something healing and constructive.”
Martin, who works the metal for Raw Tools, said that each tour stop finishes the tool started from the previous stop. So, State College finished the tool from the Cleveland stop, and the tour’s next stop, Rochester, New York, will finish the State College tool.
The metal used for State College’s tool came from handguns donated by the State College Police Department, and police Chief John Gardner was in attendance.
The demonstrators invited attendees to pound and hammer the white-hot metal themselves, turning what was formerly an AK-47 into a mattock, a pickax-like agricultural tool.
Tyson Daniels, a member of 3rd Way Collective, said the process of hitting the metal was satisfying.
“I haven’t done a whole lot of metal working. ... I know how to swing a hammer, but just working that gun and turning it into something that will make beautiful things — flowers, fruits, vegetables — it’s a much better use for the metal,” he said.
The tools upon completion are either sold on Raw Tools’ website or donated to the community. This time around, the pair decided to give a trowel they had made to the Rev. Jes Kast of Faith United Church of Christ in State College, who shared that she lost her parents in an act of gun violence when she was an infant.
The event was organized by 3rd Way Collective, a student activist organization that engages in faith-based peace and social justice activism, and Moms Demand Action Centre Region, a local chapter of a nationwide gun control group.
The Rev. Carol Cissel of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County said the recent shootings in State College make the conversation even more important.
“Proximity makes it real, gives it staying power,” Cissel said. “You talk to people who say it doesn’t happen here, and comforting them, because it does happen here.”
The Beating Guns tour is both a spinoff of Raw Tools as well as a promotion for Claiborne and Martin’s new book, inspired by the biblical symbolism of “beating swords into plowshares,” that calls for an end to gun violence. The transforming of the guns into tools is a modern interpretation of this verse, according to the book.
The tour concluded after its stop in Rochester, but the mission of Beating Guns and Raw Tools will keep on, Claiborne said.
“We can get rid of all guns, but hatred will still find ways to surface and take lives,” he said. “It’s not just a gun problem, but guns are designed to kill, and they make our capacity to kill so lethal.”