Guns to garden tools: The Colorado group is looking for change, healing

DENVER (AP) – Nearly three decades after her 3-year-old son was killed in a shooting that broke the silence near a two-story duplex in Denver, Charletta Evans broke the silence as she eased her pain with a hammer blow. molten rifle barrel into a garden tool.

The Denver church event was part of a program run by the Colorado Springs-based nonprofit RAWtools, which draws inspiration from the Bible verse “They beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into sickles.”

“Seeing another gun on the street is so comforting. I like the idea that something that could potentially harm will turn into a garden tool that will be used for productivity, ”said Evans, holding a photo of her son Cassan, killed before Christmas in 1995.

RAWtools has disabled more than 1,000 firearms nationwide since its inception in 2013, shortly after a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Many of the resulting garden tools are donated to participating churches or sold on the RAWtools website.

Group chief executive Mike Martin said 1,000 firearms with disabilities “feel small” given the nearly 400 million firearms in the U.S., but that’s just the beginning.

“It’s a little bit. We influence change by making changes in our lives and forcing others to do the same, ”he said, noting that RAWtools also works with groups that focus on rehabilitating offenders and reconciling them with victims.

The ultimate goal of the organization, he said, is to offer “space for people to turn their trauma from something that brings death into their lives, into something that brings life.”

At another recent event at a church in the nearby town of Aurora, where there has been an alarming outbreak of gun violence, the group anonymously bought out weapons and disabled 75 firearms, 50 of which were semi-automatic. RAWtools pays $ 100 for standard rifles, $ 200 for pistols and semi-automatic firearms, and $ 300 for AR-style rifles.

Chris Silkwood of Denver donated his semi-automatic rifle plus $ 500 to RAWtools after his wife read about the organization and said she wanted him to get rid of the gun on her birthday.

Silkwood previously worked in Iraq and Afghanistan for a construction company that contracted with the U.S. military and bought a rifle and pistol after the military demanded that company employees be armed.

About a year after he stopped working in the Middle East, Silkwood said Sandy Hook’s shooting made him think about his own young daughter, who was just entering school, and why anyone should own a rifle like he and the one used in the massacre.

“I couldn’t come up with a good reason,” Silkwood said. “It’s designed for one purpose only, and that’s to kill people, and usually a lot of people.”

Silkwood, who said he did not oppose all weapons, did not want to sell the rifle for fear that it would fall into the wrong hands, so it stood for about ten years until RAWtools turned it into a gift for his wife’s birthday. .

He said he was both relieved and proud of the garden tools he had created.

“The sense of relief came from the fact that this gun is now gone and will never be used for anything other than, in fact, for gardening,” he said.

For Evans, the RAWtools mission is linked to her own, which includes a public statement about her path to forgiving – and even defending – her son’s killers.

She said the journey began the night her son died in her arms, when she said she felt a presence and heard a voice asking if she forgave the killers. She immediately agreed.

Evans, who later formed a gang-prevention organization and now runs the Colorado Crime Survivors Network, took the opportunity in 2012 to meet face-to-face for eight hours with one of the shooters, Raymond Johnson, who was serving time in a Colorado jail . From that point on, she said, she adopted Johnson as her son and began advocating for his release.

Johnson, who was 15 at the time of the shooting, completed a program to return juveniles convicted as adults and was released from prison as a free man last November. Evans said another shooter, Paul Littlejon, is expected to be released soon.

For Evans, healing came in many forms – through her spirituality, forgiveness and advocacy. But she said she finds the most peace by telling the story of Cassan.

“As long as I continue to reach out to other people, I support Cassan alive,” she said. “And that’s my goal. As long as I live, I will keep Cassan alive by sharing my story of forgiveness and how God can heal you. ”

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