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These pastors are ‘beating guns’ by transforming them into garden tools

The Oregonian/OregonLive

Outside Augustana Lutheran Church in Northeast Portland, a rifle barrel was heated in a forge, hammered into a new shape and transformed into a garden tool.

Two authors of the book “Beating Guns” stopped in Portland on March 30 as part of their 37-city book and blacksmithing tour across the country.

Taking inspiration from Isaiah 2:4 — “… And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” — the pair are speaking to church audiences about gun violence and forging hoes, forks and mattocks from deconstructed guns. Shane Claiborne and Michael Martin, both pastors, have co-authored “Beating Guns: Hope for People Who are Weary of Violence.” Claiborne said he was inspired to write the book after seeing ongoing gun violence in his Philadelphia neighborhood.

Martin, who lives in Colorado Springs, founded RAWtools six years ago, after the Sandy Hook shooting. As a blacksmith repurposing guns, Martin said he’s turning “tools that bring death into tools that cultivate life.”

The two men connected after finding a shared interest in

bringing the Biblical words into action.

Martin brings the forge, anvil and tools. Claiborne leads a sermon on the impacts of gun violence.

During their Portland event, people who have been affected by gun violence took turns striking an orange-glowing rifle barrel with a hammer, helping to form its new shape.

“It offers them a space of healing and lament,” Martin said.

Guns for the tour have been donated along the way, sometimes by law enforcement who are disposing of weapons but often by individuals who have an unwanted gun. Some of the guns were inherited; sometimes they were returned to a family after a suicide.

Suicides account for nearly two-thirds of all firearm deaths in the United States.

Martin’s ministry focuses on promoting conflict resolution and nonviolence training. Claiborne was more willing to talk politics.

“There are folks that say it’s not a gun problem, it’s a heart problem,” he said, “and what we say tonight is that it’s both. We need God to heal hearts, and God may be looking to us to change some laws.”

Augustana Lutheran Church, then, was a fitting tour stop. The church’s pastor, Rev. Mark Knutson, has been a vocal leader with Lift Every Voice, a faith-based coalition that wants Oregon to pass bans on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, proposals currently in the form of House Bill 3265 and House Bill 3223. Neither bill has gotten any hearings or votes.

But on Tuesday, two other gun bills had public hearings. Senate Bill 978 would allow Oregon gun dealers to refuse to sell weapons to people under age 21. An amendment to the bill would also make owners liable for harm caused by someone who obtains a gun that is not locked up, if that harm occurs within two years.

House Bill 2013 is far less sweeping. It would require people convicted of domestic violence or stalking crimes to turn over their weapons.

Knutson said if House Bill 3265 and House Bill 3223 failed to move forward in the legislature, his group would move to work on a ballot initiative.

Chris Lehman contributed to this report. @editorswindler / sswindler@

Michael Martin holds a garden tool that was forged from the barrel of a rifle, created as part of his “Beating Guns” book and blacksmithing tour, which stopped in Portland on March 30. Samantha Swindler, staff photos

A rifle is used to create a garden tool during the March 30 Portland stop of “Beating Guns,” at Augustana Lutheran Church. The book and blacksmithing tour offers commentary on gun violence and a demonstration in which a gun is turned into a garden tool.

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