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Presbyterian churches in Louisville, Kentucky take the plowshares approach toward halting gun violence

Sunday’s Guns to Gardens event results in the disabling of 28 weapons

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Sunday’s Guns to Gardens event in Louisville, Kentucky, resulted in 28 guns being dismantled. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

LOUISVILLE — It took a village on Sunday for churches and other organizations in Louisville to pull off a Guns to Gardens event, including the village blacksmith.

Craig Kaviar, a Louisville blacksmith who owns Craig Kaviar Forge, was among the dozen or so volunteers to accept unwanted weapons and cut them into manageable sizes. It’s now Kaviar’s task to take the parts from the 28 disabled weapons and forge them into garden tools and jewelry.

“It’s amazing the group got this organized,” Kaviar said during the two-hour event held at Douglass Boulevard Christian Church, noting that state laws in Kentucky “are not favorable for this kind of event.”

“I like the idea of turning swords into plowshares,” said Kaviar, who worships at The Temple, a Jewish synagogue in Louisville. In his shop, Kaviar utilizes several tools originally designed for warfare, including a power hammer that was once part of a battleship and a press from an ammunition plant. He said he hopes to begin turning out garden tools and jewelry gathered on Sunday sometime this week.

Craig Kaviar, a Louisville blacksmith, plans to turn the gun parts into garden tools and jewelry. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

During Sunday’s event, volunteers greeted people in their vehicles, explaining the process and answering questions.

“Any opportunity to offer people a safe way to surrender their weapons is definitely important,” said Ashia Stoess, director of Family Ministry and Community Engagement at Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church. “It’s inspiring to see a group of people from different churches make that happen.”

Early on during Sunday’s event, Stoess said the event could benefit people who inherited a gun or perhaps those who once used a weapon for hunting but no longer had a safe way to store it.

Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church’s Eva Stimson, one of the organizers, said churches contributed both volunteers and financial resources toward Sunday’s event. Mid-Kentucky Presbytery also provided a financial donation. A group formed in a Crescent Hill Sunday school class expanded to include members of Baptist and Unitarian congregations. Douglass Boulevard Christian Church, a Disciples of Christ congregation, hosted Sunday’s Guns to Gardens event.

“We have tried to earn the reputation as a place that says, ‘Sure. Let’s figure it out,’” said Douglass Boulevard’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Derek Penwell. He called gun violence “among the most visible and scary issues” that residents face.

Presbyterian Peace Fellowship has been spearheading Guns to Gardens events across the country. “Guns to Gardens is an outdoor drive-through event,” said PPF’s the Rev. Jan Orr-Harter, “not easy to do in December in some areas!”

An event held last month in Tulsa resulted in 57 guns, including an assault-style weapon, being dismantled. More events are planned for the upcoming weekend, said PPF’s the Rev. Deanna Hollas.

Chartrael Hall, a minister at Quinn Chapel AME Church in Louisville and a former GOP candidate for Louisville mayor, called Sunday’s event “a productive way to get weapons off the streets.”

He’d just been talking to a man who turned in two rifles he’d inherited from his father because the man’s children didn’t want to learn to shoot them. The man figured he could sell the rifles or pawn them, “and then he heard about this and thought it was a good cause,” Hall said.

In his neighborhood and around Louisville, “there is a numbness” about gun violence, Hall said. “You expect to hear shots. … Parents are fearful of letting their children walk to the store. It’s not in just one area — it’s a city problem,” Hall said. “I don’t know how to fix this except through power and presence and continuing to spread the message.”

During his mayoral campaign, Hall said he heard from a number of Louisville Metro Police Department officers that being routinely shorthanded has given officers an additional workload which has increased their concerns about mental health. “A lot of officers expressed [those] frustrations when I was running for mayor,” Hall said.

When Leon Lewis and Kita Rodriguez worship, it’s at Grace Hope Presbyterian Church in Louisville. “Gun use is situational,” Lewis said. “People get into an argument, the conflict escalates, and pride and ego can get in the way,” after which weapons are sometimes displayed or, tragically, used.

Rodriguez said she’s had family members both killed and injured by gun violence. “People’s lack of knowledge makes them foolish with guns,” she said. “I think that lack of knowledge is a reason for some of the violence.”

A gun is cut up during Sunday’s Guns to Gardens event, held at Douglass Boulevard Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

Walter McWhorter of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, who surrendered two pistols and 16 rifles and long guns on Sunday, had perhaps the most difficult decision to make among those who turned in weapons. All were part of his father’s extensive gun collection.

“My father, who passed away 19 years ago, used to collect rifles and pistols,” primarily those used during the two world wars, McWhorter wrote on a Facebook post. “He painstakingly restored them and researched their history. [On Sunday] I took some of his guns to be destroyed. Why destroy them when I could have sold them or given them to a collector? The legacy that I hope to pass on to my child and grandchildren is a world where guns are neither wanted nor needed. I don’t want anyone to glorify a gun by hanging it on a wall or displaying it as a thing of beauty.”

McWhorter said the decision to destroy the guns was one he wrestled with “for quite some time.” It came down to “trying to decide which was more important to me: honoring my father’s legacy and what he was passionate about versus working to create a new world that better reflects what I care about and what matters most to me.”


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