One Michigan-based organization is committed to turning “weapons of death into tools of life,” advocating for peace and nonviolence, in an effort to find common ground regardless of where anyone falls in the gun debate.
Corey Simon, a pastor at the United Methodist Church in Bangor, attended a RAWtools convention in 2019 where he was first introduced to the idea of turning guns into garden tools.
RAWtools’ mission is to “disarm hearts and forge peace” and their “Swords to Plowshares” program provides an opportunity for gun-owners to donate a weapon and receive a garden tool made from that gun for free. Simon was observing a RAWtools demonstration when he was invited up to strike the metal, and as soon as he did he was hooked. “I was like, ‘well, this is it. This is what I want to do,’” he said. “It was one of those instances of catching lightning in a bottle.”
Simon’s next step was taking classes at Tillers International located in Scotts. “I took those classes so I knew what I was doing, and didn’t hurt myself,” he said, “which I immediately did.” Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine, Simon began perfecting his new craft and Disruptive Disciples Blacksmithing was born. “I took what RAWtools did, and wanted to contextualize it to here in Michigan. They are on the specifically pacifist side of things, and I very much appreciate that and strive towards that,” he said. “I grew up around guns, I’m a hunter and I still hunt on occasion. I still own my own guns, I also cut them up and turn them into tools.”
Last summer Simon said he started the on-the-road aspect of Disruptive Disciples, and now he travels the state attending various events. He sets up his booth, performs a demonstration, and invites people to imagine alternatives to gun violence. “I’m not making an anti-gun statement,” Simon said, “but the conversation is inherently political.”
In his travels Simon has done demonstrations in Traverse City, Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Coloma. “I was in Flint a couple of weeks ago at the Freedom School for a special rally day around gun violence,” he said. “They had me out there, and I was able to demonstrate for a group of 100 kids.” Most recently, Simon has held Disruptive Disciple Blacksmithing demonstrations on Second Saturdays during The Huss Project’s farmers market this summer in Three Rivers.
Simon said the average response of those attending his workshops are almost always positive. “Some of the best conversations I’ve had, though, have been with more conservative people who come up to the booth and have been more hesitant,” he said. “Usually, I’m able to have a conversation with them and explain what I’m doing, and what this means. Typically, we can actually find some common ground and come at it from that. I find that when I mention I grew up around guns and I own guns that there’s a certain relaxation.”
On the day Watershed Voice interviewed Simon, he was performing a demonstration at The Huss Project with a unique twist on some of the materials being transformed. “A few weeks ago, I had a veteran from Afghanistan who came over with 15 guns and we had a chopping party. His whole thing was, ‘I’m done with this, I don’t want these in my life anymore.’ Some of the materials I have today are actually some of the guns he handed over,” Simon said.
The Disruptive Disciples Blacksmithing website provides information for those interested in hosting a demonstration. Though it is a Christian-based organization, the website states they make every effort to be as interfaith and accommodating as possible. For those events, Simon leads the demonstrations by heating up the forge and begins the process of turning a disabled gun barrel into a fully functional garden tool for a community to either keep, donate, or auction off.
From there, a wide number of options are available to personalize the event such as giving people the opportunity to beat the metal and join the forging process, add a worship service to accompany the demonstration, or even give everyone the opportunity to take a personally-made heart necklace home. According to the website, “While we hope that you would be able to provide the gun barrel, we understand that sometimes that isn’t an option. If this is the case let us know and we can accommodate.”
The Disruptive Disciples website also offers a way for customers to purchase pieces Simon has made over the years. These options include mattocks forged from reclaimed rifle barrels, a Japanese garden tool called a “hori hori,” heart earrings, heart necklaces, and spades. The website also offers an option to commission a unique piece of work from Simon, which he says “the sky’s the limit.”
Simon’s hope for Disruptive Disciples Blacksmithing is that regardless of where anyone falls in the gun debate, we may still find common ground in the hope for building a better and less violent world. Like the website states, turning guns into garden tools is not done with the intent to support efforts to take people’s guns or rights away, but rather to offer a space to imagine a world with less violence and to mourn with those who have lost loved ones to gun violence.
“The way I think about it,” Simon said, “is taking a tool that’s designed for death, and turning it into a tool that is designed to cultivate life.”
Beca Welty is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice.