Courtesy of Jim Curry

Partners at the New Haven Police Department and Swords to Plowshares Northeast began the process of transforming unwanted guns from “life taking to life making” at a Saturday event. 

In honor of National Gun Buyback Day, the two organizations hosted the Elm City’s biannual Guns to Gardens gun buyback event. At the event, gun owners could dispose of unwanted firearms safely and anonymously in exchange for cash. After being vetted by the NHPD, the weapons were then given to the Swords to Plowshares team, who will repurpose them into gardening tools and donate them to agricultural groups and organizations in the city.

“The gun buyback is a method of collecting guns from members of the public who wish to surrender them,” said NHPD Lieutenant Jason Rentkowicz. “A lot of times, even if there’s no criminal intent, guns can still fall into the wrong hands, and there can still be accidents, there can still be suicides. This is an easy way to safely get rid of firearms, and it’s no questions asked and it’s anonymous.”

According to Rentkowicz, upwards of 40 guns were bought back by the NHPD at this weekend’s Guns to Gardens event, which took place at the New Haven Police Training Academy. These guns included a mix of assault rifles and handguns. 

In addition to exchanging unwanted firearms for cash, residents can also access free gun locks at buyback events.

After their purchase, Rentkowicz explained, these guns will be thoroughly vetted by the police department to make sure that they had not been previously used in criminal activity. Then, the discarded firearms will be sent off to the Swords to Plowshares Northeast team, who will begin the process of converting them into gardening tools.

“Typically, weapons that are surrendered would be destroyed,” Rentkowicz said. “But with Swords to Plowshares, instead of just scrapping them, they make something useful out of them. So they use the metal to make gardening tools, and it’s symbolic that something that could be violent is being turned into something that is useful and happy.”

Bishop Jim Curry — co-founder of Swords to Plowshares Northeast — explained that after the discarded firearms are re-fabricated into garden tools, they are given back to the New Haven community. The garden tools are donated to schools, community gardens, church groups, youth empowerment groups and violence interruption programs across the city.

The partnership between the New Haven Police Department and Swords to Plowshares Northeast began in 2017. For the past five years, the two groups have worked together to host biannual gun buybacks in the city.

“We’re really just about encouraging people to be responsible gun owners,” said Pina Violano, co-founder of Swords to Plowshares. “If you no longer need [your gun] or you no longer can secure it, we have a safe venue for you to deliver it or access tools to store it safely.”

Violano said that 10 percent of people who have turned in firearms at buyback events this year have used that particular weapon to attempt suicide. She added that attendees of the events often travel up to 70 miles to exchange old guns.

This year’s Guns to Gardens event is of special significance, Violano said, because it marks the 10-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

“We’ve kind of come full circle now,” Violano said. “Looking at all of the bad things that have happened because of guns, especially in our own state. It’s a true transformation.”

At most buyback events, Curry and Violano explained, there is also a demonstration of how the guns are transformed. Attendees are invited to take part in the demonstration, too. They can work with the Swords to Plowshares team to use the forge and pound the recycled metal into gardening tools.

“We especially invite people who have been victims of or traumatized by gun violence to come to the forge and to take power and pound these weapons into gardening tools,” Curry said. “We also make jewelry, and we invite people to make heart shaped charms whenever we have a public demonstration”

Swords to Plowshares is a part of a larger umbrella group called Guns to Gardens, Curry said. Guns to Gardens is a national movement focused on transforming guns collected at buybacks across the country. So far, the initiative has reached 30 states, with buybacks happening recently in Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio, California, Massachusetts and Wisconsin.

Ultimately, Violano said, the events are about promoting safe gun ownership and creating something productive with weapons.

“With these buybacks we hope to tell a story,” he said. “We want to share a statement of hope that weapons of harm can be changed into tools of nurture, peace and growth.”

In 2021, firearms caused roughly 47,286 homicide and suicide deaths in the United States.

Molly Reinmann covers Admissions, Financial Aid & Alumni for the News. Originally from Westchester, New York, she is a sophomore in Berkeley College majoring in American Studies.