Peacemaker program turns guns into garden tools

February 10, 2015 Updated: February 10, 2015 at 2:58 pm
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Benjamin Corey, David Works and Fred Martin (left to right) take turns hammering metal that was being turned from a gun into a gardening tool. They were participating in a Peacemakers event at the Beth-El Mennonite Church on Sunday, February 8, 2015. The Peacemakers Tour, a 1-year-old program sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee and RAWtools, a nonprofit group that travels the country promoting nonviolence and offering to weld weapons into garden tools. As the three men forged the metal, those attending burned pieces of flash paper with troubling issues written on them. (JERILEE BENNETT/THE GAZETTE)

Kevin Wilder got on the stage of Beth-El Mennonite Church on Sunday and held up a rifle. He slipped the weapon out of its casing and showed it to an audience of more than 60 people.

"My father used this gun to kill himself," he told them.

Wilder's father shot himself in 1975, when Wilder was 8 years old. The gun was passed to Wilder.

"I've had this gun all this time, I really didn't know what to do with it," he said. "I couldn't give it to somebody else."

Wilder's gun was disabled on Sunday - 40 years after his father's suicide - in a ceremony that is the first stage of the weapon becoming a garden tool. A saw was used to make three cuts through the weapon, effectively making it useless. Outside the church at 4625 Ranch Drive, two men worked a forge and demonstrated how they would use pieces of Wilder's gun to help create a garden hoe or another tool.

The transformation of Wilder's rifle was a part of a PeaceMaker Tour, a program sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee and RAWtools, a nonprofit group that travels the country promoting nonviolence and offering to weld weapons into garden tools.

RAWtools is based in Colorado Springs and says its mission "is to repurpose weapons into hand tools to be used in the creation of something new, preventing the weapon's use for violence and creating a cycle of peace."

The tour's arrival in Colorado Springs came nearly a week after the state House committee on State, Military and Veterans Affairs quashed five bills attempting to roll back gun restrictions placed on Colorado gun owners in 2013.

On Sunday, Wilder's gun was offered up during a short and powerful service dedicated to nonviolence that featured several people who shared their own tragic experiences with guns.

The keynote speaker, Benjamin Corey, talked about a time when he thought about killing himself with a Smith & Wesson .22-caliber pistol.

"You see, that gun I almost shot myself with will never hurt anybody. Because this is it," he said, holding up a wooden-handled hoe in front of the crowd.

Guns in churches have a different meaning for David Works, who in December 2007 was shot in the parking lot of New Life Church in northern Colorado Springs. Works, the last speaker Sunday, gave a simple speech.

"To make a long story short," he said, "I started the day with four kids and I ended it with two."

The Works' minivan was sprayed by bullets in the church parking lot on the morning of Dec. 9, 2007. Works' teenage daughters, Stephanie and Rachel, were killed and Works was wounded. The gunman, 24-year-old Matthew Murray, had gone on a shooting spree in Arvada the day before, killing two people and wounding two.

Less than a month later, the church's pastor called and asked the Works family if they wanted to meet the Murrays, parents of the man who shot their daughters. The families met and stayed in touch over the years. Five years later, they witnessed another shooting, Works said.

"The Thursday after the Aurora shooting, guess whose living room I am in?" he said.

That time the Works and the Murrays got together again, this time feet from Matthew's old bedroom, to pray.

Rather than condemn the gunman, Works believes that reconciliation is the best path to take, he told the audience.

By way of example, he led the crowd out to a forge in front of the church where he and Corey took turns hammering together pieces of what was once a gun.

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