Guns to Garden Tools: A New National Movement Takes Root in the Borderlands
What about more community gardens to reduce both guns and food insecurity?
Two mass shootings in two border communities—one in Uvalde, Texas, and the other in Buffalo, New York. Both perpetrated by teenage boys with assault rifles.
Two more mass shootings in America. In the borderlands we feel it acutely. There are more gun stores per square mile, along with more layers of armed agents and police, in border communities than anywhere else in the country. One of the images that struck me from the tragedy in Uvalde was the sheer number of police and federal agents with assault rifles and body armor pacing around outside the elementary school. But those heavily armed men didn’t save anyone. As the Texas Department of Public Safety revealed in an anger-inducing press conference last week, the gunman spent more than 60 minutes inside the school killing 19 children and two teachers. This took place while the police officers failed to act, and even restrained desperate parents from entering the school to save their children.
I’m not going to waste my time, or yours, on the cynical, morally rudderless comments made by Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Senator Ted Cruz, and other Republicans after the Uvalde school massacre. If not for the gun manufacturers, the gun lobby, and these cowardly politicians who care more about money than our kids’ lives, teenagers would be unable to buy weapons made for war.
You can bet, however, that these politicians will not escape the scrutiny of The Border Chronicle in the coming months. On Thursday, Todd will examine how the militarization of the border connects with America’s obsession with guns.
But today, dear reader, I want to transform my anger and frustration into a call for action. Which is why I’m writing about a nationwide effort to reduce gun violence that will take place on Saturday, June 11. (To see whether your city is participating or to get involved contact New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, Lauren Rodriguez 505-681-6899 or Miranda Viscoli 323-394-1131).
Too Many Guns, Not Enough Gardens
The thought of trying to reduce the sheer number of guns in this country—an estimated 393 million firearms—is daunting. It’s easy to feel hopeless. Americans count for 46 percent of the world’s gun ownership, even though they make up 4 percent of the global population, according to a recent NPR report. That’s a staggering number.
After the Sandy Hook school massacre in 2012, Miranda Viscoli, who was the parent of two elementary school kids at the time, was overcome by sorrow and anger. The thought of schoolchildren and their teachers being gunned down in their own classrooms was too much to endure. Too make matters worse, Viscoli discovered that New Mexico, her home state, had one of the highest rates of gun deaths in the nation.
Viscoli cofounded the nonprofit New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, which takes a multipronged approach, from lobbying at the Capitol for gun control to sponsoring a gun buyback program called Guns to Gardens.
One city the group has focused its Guns to Garden program on is Las Cruces because it’s on the border and close to Texas. “We have people coming over from El Paso, which is great,” Viscoli says. The buyback allows people to turn in their firearms—no questions asked—for gift cards to buy groceries and gas. Police are on site to decommission the firearms and make sure they’re not loaded. Then they’re handed over to a nonprofit called Raw Tools, which forges them into garden tools. The garden tools are then donated to school and community gardens or sold online. The money is used to purchase more gift cards for future buyback events.
At the last buyback in Las Cruces in March 2021, the group received 102 firearms, Viscoli says. At least 47 percent of them were assault rifles or semiautomatic weapons. “Those are the ones in particular that we want to get off the streets,” she says. The group, which has conducted anonymous surveys of participants, has found that most are turning in their guns for safety reasons. “We have parents who say, ‘My teenage son has suicidal ideation, so we need to get rid of this gun,’” she says. “Another common one is wives whose husbands have dementia, and they have a lot of guns around the house.”
On Saturday, June 11, the nonprofit will join other gun violence prevention and faith-based groups for the first nationwide Guns to Garden buyback, which will be held in more than 17 cities across the country. States participating include New Mexico, Utah, Ohio, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Wisconsin, and California.
Unfortunately, Viscoli says, the border states of Texas and Arizona are not participating in the June event. “It’s been really tough to get Texas and Arizona on board,” she says. “We’re hoping we can find some churches in Texas and Arizona that will sponsor a Guns to Garden event.”
In the wake of the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, businesses and churches in Las Cruces have already contacted Viscoli to hold Guns to Garden buybacks in the coming months. “We’re seeing a lot of interest,” she says. “And we hope other cities along the border will contact us, too.” The goal of the program is to create a space for people to safely bring in their firearms and know that the guns will never fall into unsafe hands, she says. “At the same time, we also want to send a message that we don’t need this many firearms in our country. We want to create a message of peace.”
What Does Safety Really Mean?
I find the Guns to Garden program particularly meaningful. Taking a killing machine and converting it into a gardening tool that helps sustain life—this is a powerful action both symbolically and materially. It also creates space for a conversation about what safety really means for a community, much more than the vacuous gun conversation we are seeing right now, especially among politicians. What about more community gardens to reduce both guns and food insecurity? This is a badly needed conversation in borderland communities, where political and business interests constantly promote a message of fear and xenophobia for their own material gain. Every year there are more guns, and more police and federal agents with guns. But safety doesn’t materialize. Only more threats of violence. Just ask the families of Uvalde.
For information on how to bring the Guns to Garden program to your community, call Miranda Viscoli at (323) 394-1131 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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