What do you get when you cross a Mennonite pastor with a blacksmith? Someone who forges weapons into plowshares! But this is no joke. A new movement is afoot in the United States to turn guns into garden tools. You can read about it in Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence by Shane Claiborne and Michael Martin.
Parallel to the launch of this book was a spring tour by Claiborne and Martin, who literally beat guns wherever they went. Along with stories, art, music and presentations, the Disarming Network is inviting people to turn in and disable guns according to guidelines of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The on-site forges were hot enough to reshape anything from hand guns to assault rifles.
It all started when two AK-47s were donated to be dismantled. Martin and Claiborne discovered their experiences pointed to a partnership just waiting to happen. One of the fruits of this union is Beating Guns, which covers every aspect of gun violence you can think of, from National Rifle Association agendas to the Parkland School student movement.
One of the strengths of this book is that the authors truly did their homework. There are more documented statistics in this book than pages (288). Here is a shocker: More Americans have been killed domestically by guns in the last two decades than in all U.S. foreign wars. In 2016, for example, 38,000 people died from gunshots — by homicide, suicide and accidental shootings.
Sidebars, photos, cartoons and charts make the reading experience lively and accessible. Throughout the book there are “Memorial to the Lost” pages that honor people killed in mass shootings. By the time you have seen all of them — about 20 total, from Littleton to Parkland, Orlando to Las Vegas — it sinks in that the United States truly has an epidemic of violence to reckon with.
Readers interested in gun history will likely enjoy this book. Biographical information about gun industry pioneers like Colt and Winchester gave me a different way to think about how and why the American gun industry expanded in the 18th century and how it later influenced the foreign market.
As to our modern scene, I was stunned to learn that Liberty College in Virginia, thanks to the NRA’s mega-funding sponsorship, sports one of the nation’s largest, state-of-the-art shooting ranges.
While Claiborne and Martin aim to debunk the myths and justifications of NRA loyalists (such as explaining how the Second Amendment protects state-sponsored militias and is not about government officials taking people’s guns away from them), they do well to strike a balance. They are not advocating a ban on guns but realistic, common-sense policies. “Does anyone need to shoot 100 bullets in one minute?” they ask.
Race and disparity issues are well addressed. I had never thought about the double-standard when it came to blacks and Native Americans wanting the right to defend themselves during the Reconstruction era of the 1860s and ’70s. It was unthinkable to take guns away from a white man, whether poor or wealthy. But from the perspective of Southern landowners and white settlers moving west, it made perfect sense to restrict gun ownership for nonwhites.
Along with persuasion and commentary, the authors weave in biblical reflection. In fact, one of the chapters is simply Matthew 5, without comment.
The authors distinguish pacifism from passivism, giving numerous modern examples of turning the other cheek or walking the extra mile. These “third-way” responses to threats amount to creative strategies that de-escalate tensions and redirect the intentions of a violent person.
The best part of the book is the testimonial witness of diverse people standing together beside the forge, watching or helping with the transformation of guns into practical tools. RAWtools, founded by Mennonite pastor Martin, has provided an engaging context for disarming (indeed, reversing) WARtools. Perhaps your own church parking lot has a good spot for a forging station. It’s a great way to bring folks together.
Ted Lewis works as a restorative justice trainer and consultant, and runs the Agapé Peace Center in Duluth, Minn.