Swords to Plowshares converts weapons of death into tools of life

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Great Barrington The Right Reverend James E. Curry is well acquainted with Scripture, especially Isaiah 2:4, “[…] and they will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into billhooks; Nation will no longer lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore. Curry, a now-retired Suffragan bishop from the Episcopal Church of Connecticut, has dedicated more than a decade to working with the families of victims of gun violence. In December 2012, while serving in Newtown, the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School (one of the deadliest in the country, claiming the lives of 20 students and six adults) caused two of the paths of Curry.

“It was a very, very tragic event,” Curry said of the events at Sandy Hook, part of his diocese, calling it “an opening […] on the problem that we have too many guns and they are too readily available,” a double alarm bell that ultimately led to the co-founding of Swords to Plowshares Northeast, a nonprofit organization rooted in transformation of firearms into garden tools. Curry and his friends will visit The Guthrie Center Saturday, November 12 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for a demonstration and hands-on participation at forge and anvil.

Co-founder of Swords to Plowshares Jim Curry.

“We can’t talk about Sandy Hook without talking about the kind of violence that’s going on in our cities; on issues of suicide (two-thirds of all firearm deaths are [self-inflicted]); and the amount of harm done, not only to those killed – and certainly those injured – but also the ripple effect on the family and the community,” said Curry who, while working with the grief of families and The heartbreak of an entire city, coupled with the political struggle over common-sense gun legislation, has led to thinking about ways to channel feelings of helplessness into action. It took him a while to find them, but he found them eventually. RAWTools in Colorado — a nonprofit dedicated to forging peace and disarming hearts — an effort that Curry calls “truly inspiring.”

A joint effort remains in operation across the country, dubbed Guns to Gardens, which begins by educating communities about voluntary gun surrenders and eventually seeks out trained artisans and blacksmiths to turn destroyed guns into garden tools. “One of the great things about our time at Great Barrington is that we’re going to give the tools [made] to three community gardens,” Curry said, pointing to Gideon’s Garden, Mumbet’s Freedom Farm and Greenagers.

Locally, the members of Grace Church, under the leadership of the Reverend Cristina Rathbone, are also familiar with the biblical injunction to transform tools of war into tools of life. “We believe that gun violence causes so much pain and death in our country [and] that many guns in many places would be better used as garden tools,” Rathbone said, emphasizing his congregation’s understanding of hunting and, by extension, his gratitude to hunters and the food they provide. “We are also grateful for this chance to take weapons voluntarily surrendered to police and turn them into useful tools,” she added, noting that no weapons will be accepted on the 12th; instead, blacksmiths will use material from weapons destroyed under Connecticut police supervision.

Each year, 40,000 gun deaths occur in the United States. At its core, Swords to Plowshares focuses on reducing gun violence in the communities where their events take place. By converting the weapons of death into tools of life – and using them for the good of the community – the goal of reducing senseless gun deaths comes one step closer.

“We look forward to working with the Guthrie Center and other community partners (including Railroad Street Youth Project, Christ Trinity Church, St. Paul’s Church, Taft Farms and Multicultural BRIDGE) to welcome the Swords to Plowshares team to Great Barrington. , especially because it will be – primarily – a participatory event and anyone who wants to can experience this transformation first-hand,” Rathbone said.

Curry’s current role as chief blacksmith went hand in hand with the founding of the nonprofit organization, whose genesis occurred in New Haven. Prior to the pandemic, the group worked with the local men’s prison to teach inmates blacksmithing skills; over time (plus his own training in Colorado Springs under RAWTools), Curry resumed training and is now at the helm. As he and his team lost their connection to prison in March 2020, they are working to reestablish it, citing restorative justice as another part of the puzzle.

“Men and women coming out of prison, in reintegration programs, love this work,” said Curry, who stresses that it’s integral “to their re-understanding of their place in the community.”

Invariably, people who come into contact with Curry and his team are intrigued, not only by their work, but also by the potential of their efforts to create cohesion within humanity. Their events raise awareness of gun violence prevention and, perhaps most importantly, sow the seeds of conversation.

Amid what he calls the Second Amendment impasse, Curry stresses that it’s about protecting families, especially those with young children, teenagers and guns that aren’t properly locked. and stored. “30,000 people a year take their lives. By guns. And most of the time it’s because [there is a gun] in the attic, or the basement, or in the garage—[and] he is available in times of crisis,” says Curry. At the Guthrie Center, local police will be offering free gun locks; Still, Curry and his team encourage everyone to think for themselves: Are our guns really locked securely? Do we really need this weapon? Or is it enough of a danger to us that we give it up voluntarily?

“There’s nothing more empowering than taking the hammer on the gun part – metal that had been part of a potentially dangerous weapon – and hammering it into a garden tool,” says Curry, whose sentiments echo Rathbone:

“It’s a rare and extraordinary feeling to hammer what was once a gun nozzle into a trowel, and we hope people walk away feeling both more empowered and more hopeful.”

REMARK: The Most Reverend James E. Curry is a retired suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Church of Connecticut. He is a founding member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence and a contributor to the anthology “Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace.” He is a co-founder of Swords to Plowshares and a board member of Mothers United Against Violence in Hartford. Jim serves as chief of operations and head blacksmith creating the tools that are the end result of the group and holding demonstrations with community and church groups throughout the northeast. He holds a BA from Amherst College, an M.Ed in Counseling from UMass, and an M.Div. and DD from Berkeley Divinity School at Yale.

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