Guns. Whether you see them as a symbol of freedom, a threat to the safety of kids or both, one thing is certain: People need a safe, legal way of getting rid of their unwanted ones.
Gun buybacks–sponsored by police departments, nonprofits and even companies–provide that option for many communities.
Here’s how it works: Bring an unwanted gun to one of these events, turn it in (no questions asked) and receive a gift card in exchange.
But what happens to these guns once they’re surrendered? Some are destroyed. Others are used to create something new, beautiful or even transformative.
That’s what the folks at New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence in Santa Fe are doing. This organization is collecting discarded guns and giving them new life as garden tools, sculptures and wearable art.
Why do people give up guns? For all kinds of reasons. People inherit guns they don’t want or get stuck with one while a family member is in jail, said Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence.
That nonprofit, non-partisan organization was created as a response to the “tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School (where 20 children and six adult staff members were fatally shot) but also to the escalating gun violence that was starting to define our state and country,” its website states.
“We aren’t anti-gun,” Viscoli said to Rewire. The organization isn’t “here to take away everyone’s guns.” Rather, its focus is on providing resources for reducing gun violence.
When New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence hosts gun buybacks, sellers don’t always share why they’re relinquishing the guns, Viscoli said.
After police evaluate the gun for certain factors—such as whether it’s an antique (New Mexico law prohibits destroying certain types of antique guns) and whether it’s been stolen or used in the commission of a crime—Viscoli’s organization takes possession of the processed firearms. The organization’s first two buybacks were held at the Santa Fe Police Department and the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s department.
After that, it might become a gardening tool. Or a sculpture. Or jewelry.
In the past, New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence partnered with RAWtools, a Colorado Springs, Colorado, nonprofit whose mission is to “disarm hearts and forge peace.” RAWtools takes unwanted guns and transforms them into different types of gardening tools.
Now, however, Viscoli’s organization is able to carry out the program on its own, she said. A chop saw is used to “literally just chop up the gun” so it can be made into something new.
The guns are destroyed according to federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives standards, she said.
“It is very important that triggers are cut in half and that you do not cut a gun so that it becomes a sawed off shot gun,” Viscoli explained. “We cut up the guns into several different parts so that there is no possible way that the gun can be welded back together.
“Parts are then separated as an extra precaution. Artists take some pieces and welders other pieces. We then forge them into gardening tools. It is physically impossible to ever use these guns again.”
Some cheaper guns, made with a lot of plastic rather than metal parts, don’t leave much raw material for garden toolmaking, but sometimes it’s less about the end product and more about the symbolism, Viscoli said.
The gun in the video below was made of many plastic parts, but it was included in the program anyway. The reason? It was brought to the program by a mother whose son used the gun in his suicide.
New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence has also partnered with students and faculty of Santa Fe Community College, as well as local artist Don Redman, to create sculptures (like this one) and jewelry from decommissioned guns.
Remember those plastic gun parts that aren’t used to make garden tools? Some of them live on as jewelry creations.
The organization put on a Guns to Art benefit show last year and proceeds went toward the gun buyback program, the artists and scholarships for art students.
Some of the plastic gun pieces are transformed into stamps that kids use to make anti-gun violence posters at their schools.
“We have to get creative,” Viscoli said. “Art is such a great way to help us to communicate about the hard stuff.” That includes gun violence, which she describes as “a public health pandemic.”
Sometimes, people just need their guns to be stored for safekeeping if they’re going through a mental health crisis, Viscoli said. Her organization stores guns for people who are suicidal until they are mentally healthy enough to have them in their homes again. Similar programs might exist in your area.
If you want your gun gone for good, gun buybacks can be a great option–if you do your research. Since gun laws vary from state to state, some areas don’t have many restrictions on who can host a gun buyback or what happens to the guns once they change hands.
For example, in New Mexico, there’s nothing preventing an organization from hosting a buyback event in a parking lot and keeping all of the guns for themselves, Viscoli said. Hers chooses to partner with police for everyone’s safety.
Take some time to investigate the organization that’s hosting the buyback you’re considering. What is its mission and why is it hosting the buyback? Most importantly, what will happen to the gun once you surrender it?
Rachel Crowell is an Iowa-based writer exploring science and math. Rachel lives with Delilah, a golden retriever a stranger once called “the cutest thing in America.” Outside of STEM topics, Rachel also welcomes writing opportunities on everything from art to finance. Follow them on Twitter at @writesRCrowell.