A Holiday Aspiration


“Disarming Hearts, Forging Peace” is the motto of RAWtools, and who can argue with that, especially at this holiday season? Taking Judeo-Christian scripture literally, this organization is committed to transforming people-killing weapons into implements of peace.  Send RAWtools a gun and it will re-forge it into gardening tools.


This is a mission that resonates with me. I have been a gun-owner since age seven, when my grandfather, a westerner whose heritage revolved around hunting and fishing, gave me a single-shot .22 rifle to teach me marksmanship. He subsequently gave me a number of other guns as I graduated to actually hunting with him.

For my grandfather, there was no romance to gun ownership. Guns were just tools, he told me, and dangerous ones. If, he said, he ever saw me playing with a toy gun or pretending to shoot at people, then he would take away my .22. My grandfather was also, as a hunter, an advocate of gun control. It was hunters, after all, who promoted legislation to limit the permissible size and caliber of guns used to hunt waterfowl, and who joined together in the early years of the twentieth century to limit the size of shotgun magazines and protect duck and goose populations. My grandfather believed that a hunter should be able to bring down his quarry with a single, well-placed shot.

I have never owned a handgun or any other weapon designed to kill people. Accordingly, I have been increasingly dismayed by the way in which the National Rifle Association has infiltrated hunting. I quit a hunting club to which I belonged because support for the NRA became more or less mandatory and members were bragging about pursuing deer with handguns and assault rifles. Such guns are designed for killing people and neither would be the choice of someone whose goal is to dispatch an animal efficiently and ethically. To carry them into the woods is just a way to rehearse people-killing.

I’m not ready yet to surrender the hunting guns my grandfather gave me. I still enjoy hunting, although these days it tends to be a solitary exercise, just me and my dog. But I would love to have a hoe forged from the barrel of an assault rifle. As I cultivated my garden, I’d know that I had taken one murder-machine out of circulation.


As the scripture promises:  “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” That strikes me as an aspiration whose time has come.

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My father was a compulsive tree planter, but it was my mother who taught me the finer points of gardening.

Her homeschooling was followed by two years in the New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture, and then ten years as horticulturist at an Olmsted Brothers designed estate on the Hudson River Palisades.

I’ve worked as a horticultural journalist for 35 years, contributing to publications ranging from Martha Stewart Living to the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society and The New York Times.  My most recent book is Nature Into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill, which is a tour of the lessons to be learned from that great public garden.  I’m currently focusing on my new podcast (at thomaschristophergardens.com) which features weekly interviews with leaders of environmentally-informed gardening.

My special enthusiasms include sustainable gardening, especially sustainable lawns;  heirloom chicken breeds; and recreating vintage New England hard ciders.


Contact Tom by email


  1. Thanks for this article! I couldn’t agree with you more. We let a couple of guys hunt on our property because we know that the overpopulation of deer in Michigan are detrimental to the continued healthy growth of our natural areas. Hunting is one thing, killing people is another.

  2. Thanks for this. I have a variety of guns I inherited from my dad and grandparents – mostly handguns (my grandad was county sheriff and my grandma was an unofficial deputy and my dad worked briefly as a cop). While I enjoy target shooting I don’t do it very often and I would love to have garden tools made from my family guns. I’ll have to look into this.

  3. Indeed a wonderful goal. Guns are a tool when used for hunting. My father raised sheep and often he used his gun to protect them from dogs. But the guns we have today, the enormous bullets, are for killing, destruction. Thanks for writing this. Peace!

  4. Thanks, Tom. Great essay. The NRA membership includes plenty of good people— hunters and sportsmen (I was once a member), but the nutjob NRA fringe keeps lobbying Capitol Hill with money and fear. It’s crazy! There are fewer hunters now, but more guns, especially semiautomatic handguns and deadly assault weapons. I’m glad to learn about RAWtools. BTW… I’ve got a .22 rifle that’s barely suitable for groundhog hunting. I should qualify that: I’m barely suitable for groundhog hunting. I’m a terrible shot.

  5. Great idea, but aren’t you just a little bit concerned that this will inspire Darwin Award candidates to skip the modifications (forge ahead, so to speak) and just shoot their planting holes? Have you got an anvil? I don’t.

  6. Hi Tom! What a fantastic article and idea. I love your common sense approach to this. Thanks for writing this

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