On Saturday night, members congregated to celebrate the group’s seventh anniversary.

February 18, 2020

Radical activism in a living room with coffee and cake, but tucked away in the suburbs of Colorado Springs, RAWtools is revolutionizing the community by addressing gun violence head-on.

RAWtools’ founder, Michael Martin, and its members are using blacksmithing to deal with guns. Placed inside the glowing heat of the forge, donated guns are melted down to their original metal form and hammered into their final shape: gardening tools. The repurposed firearms are used in the RAWtools garden or sold to support the organization. For the past seven years RAWtools has disarmed firearms across the country, and Feb. 8 marked the anniversary of their founding.

On Saturday night, members congregated to celebrate the group’s seventh anniversary. With 22 guns disabled in the last week, the group had even more to celebrate. The event began with poetry and theater performances by local artist group First Strike Theater.

RAWtools board member Fred Martin, Michael Martin’s father and local business owner opened his home to the event, and the celebration stretched between the kitchen and living room, where RAWTools members packed in tightly to watch the performance.

Martin sat in the audience alongside his son and father. With a compassionate warmth and humility, you would not be able to tell that the organization has grown extensively since its founding and was covered by the New York Times in 2018.

RAWtools began in 2012, after the shock of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Martin felt compelled to take action and began to learn blacksmithing. The Mennonite Colorado Springs native and former youth pastor used his new skills to start RAWtools three months later. Founded on the Biblical principle of turning “swords into plowshares,” RAWtools is a modern-day iteration of the Old Testament mandate.

Mary Sprunger-Froese, artist in residence and member of the First Strike Theatre troupe, echoed the RAWtools motto, “forging peace, disarming hearts,” in her performance on Saturday. She led the crowd in chants about peace, community and radical justice. Inspired by the Old Testament commandment to “learn of war no more,” the group is decidedly community-oriented and focuses on restorative justice through collective action. RAWtools focuses on addressing the personal aspects of a politically charged issue — providing solutions through relationships, dialogue and alternative means of justice, according to their website.

Many of the members present at the seven-year celebration were longtime supporters of RAWtools. Ester Kisamore has been a part of RAWtools since its inception and said her frustration with the lack of legislation on guns has motivated her to work against gun violence for the last 36 years. “‘Forging peace, disarming hearts.’ I try to live like that and to put out love, care, compassion,” Kisamore said. In addition to turning guns into garden tools, RAWtools provides educational services for the community, including “War No More: Nonviolence Training, Resources, and Networking” and “Vine and Fig: Neighborhood Development and Systems Engagement.”

Since beginning seven years ago, RAWtools has grown extensively. RAWtools is part of a Disarming Network of over 48 firearm-disable locations across the United States that provides individuals the ability to donate and disarm their guns for free.

In the past week, RAWtools has partnered with Manitou Springs to disable their confiscated firearms. The partnership marks a moment of progress in the type of collectivized, community-centered action that RAWtools was founded on.