COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Some communities are turning to buyback programs to fight gun violence.
Now, a program in Colorado Springs is giving those guns a new use.
“I’ve always liked the idea of creating and making things,” said Michael Martin, co-founder of Rawtools, a nonprofit dedicated to turning guns into garden tools. “So, to add meaning of turning a gun into a garden tool, it could be cathartic, it could be healing, and it could feel like you’re contributing something to the world.”
Martin and his father started the nonprofit as a type of gun buyback program— to help take guns off the street and reduce gun violence.
“One of the things I talked about when I was a pastor was the scripture of turning swords into plowshares, and I thought what that might look like today,” Martin said. “So, we have a large volunteer network across the country that helps disable their weapons so they can donate it to us. There are questions as to whether buybacks work. And I think the data is kind of being searched through. Often you might have a few buybacks in one area, they might fall off or drift off. What we’re trying to do is create more longevity in those buybacks.”
However, experts like David Kopel, a lawyer who studies gun buyback programs, say gun buybacks may not be very effective.
“Most recently in May of 2021, some scholars published a paper with the national bureau of economic research that was the most comprehensive look on buybacks for a quarter-century,” Kopel said. “They were trying to get data on every buyback from 1991 to 2015 and they found in the long-term zero positive benefits at a statistically discernable level. Rawtools is choosing this one direction they choose with voluntary participants, and presumably, that makes them all feel better, which is great. That’s their free choice.”
Martin said Rawtools is trying to improve those numbers by also incorporating the process as a type of therapy for gun violence victims.
Sirius Heart, a survivor of the New Life Church Mass shooting, is involved with Rawtools.
“My two sisters were killed in that shooting,” Heart said. “Being involved with Rawtools has given me a way to shift my relationship with that, in a way instead of the tragedy following me around I can do something with it. If it’s going to be in my life what are the ways I can work with that in a way that’s transformative and not exacerbate the harm I’ve experienced.”
Sharletta Evans, who is also involved with Rawtools, has also been affected by gun violence.
“What positioned me in this work was the loss of my three-year-old son due to drive-by shooting by the hands of teenagers,” Evans said. “At Rawtools, they actually do the illustration right in front of the community and those turning their guns in. Where they can actually see the different formations of this piece of metal that can be used for something productive right in front of their eyes.”
So far, Martin said Rawtools has turned more than a thousand guns into garden tools. Martin hopes more innovative buyback programs will grow throughout the country.