April 17, 2014

'Lilies for guns' rises from Columbia minister’s horror at school shootings

Moved by the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, retired Methodist minister John Evans is working to lessen gun violence in Columbia through his Faith Coalition on Gun Violence.

As retired Methodist minister John Evans watched the aftermath of the 2012 Connecticut school shootings, he felt compelled to act, and the local Faith Coalition on Gun Violence was born.

With Evans at its head, the group is trying to lessen gun violence in Columbia with events like Saturday’s planned gun giveback day at Washington Street United Methodist Church. Evans hopes it will result in the guns’ remains being melted and transformed into a piece of public art.

The event, which is being called Peace Lilies for Guns, will be from 10 a.m to 3 p.m. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott says those who drop off unloaded guns will receive a peace lily in return.

The nonpartisan and nonprofit group functions as a forum for people from both religious and secular communities. Evans, who lives in Columbia’s Hollywood-Rose Hill neighborhood and still works as a pastoral counselor, said he wants to combat gun violence peacefully through education, training and local community activism.

“As a coalition, we want to maintain conversations so people who are gun enthusiasts can come offer a point of view,” Evans said. He hopes open conversation will lead to serious discussions of violence prevention.

Evans said he struggles with the idea of effectiveness when dealing with an issue that seems to be bogged down in Congress and at the State House. But, he said, a deep compassion for those who have been killed by gun violence and a remembrance of the children who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School keep him motivated even in moments of resistance.

“Seeing the pictures of 6-year-olds touched something deeply in me,” Evans said. “To think their lives ended, and they didn’t have a chance to even graduate high school.”

Evans said he has encountered some resistance. Churches, for instance, often avoid the issue because they fear getting sucked into something political, he said.

Evans said he discovered gun buyback and giveback programs through extensive research after the Sandy Hook shootings. He said those programs gave him hope something meaningful could be done locally.

Saturday’s gun giveback day will be in the parking lot of the church, where Evans and some other coalition members are parishioners. People can bring any guns they no longer want, Evans said. The Richland County Sheriff’s Department will destroy the guns, but the department will save some pieces because Evans wants to work with local artists to create an abstract and metaphorical sculpture.

He hopes to see it displayed in a public place such as Five Points and include the names of gun-violence victims.

It’s easy to be apathetic, Evans said. But he hopes the sculpture will raise public awareness.

It was on a mission trip to Malawi, Evans said, that he got the inspiration to transform guns into art as he watched people use metal hoes and shovels – sort of a version of guns into plowshares.

“I like the idea of using something violent to talk about peace,” Evans said.

The coalition began in early 2013 with about a half-dozen people and now has about 60, with word-of-mouth being the most effective means of recruiting members, he said.

The coalition’s secretary, Sej Harman, said she has come to appreciate Evans’ drive and organization.

“He’s very gung-ho about getting the group gelled and moving us forward towards this gun turn-in event,” said Harman, who joined the coalition in August.

“The giveback event will be a very visible representation of us.”

The article originally appeared in a longer form on Columbia Voice, a service of the University of South Carolina’s College of Mass Communications and Information Studies.


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