Peter Murchison ’73, P’02
As a Bucknell electrical engineer, my four years of labs and classes required a lot of work — especially the dreaded 8 a.m. classes I seemed to have every semester. To get through it (and leave time to play guitar in a five-piece blues band, B.C. Bone) required me to develop skills that have had a lifelong benefit.

My main job after Bucknell was with IBM, where I worked for 36 years, sometimes traveling the world, including living and working in China for a decade. When I started in 1981, IBM, like many major corporations back then, gave employees extensive training for a year. I joked that they hired me as a Bucknell engineer not because of my engineering knowhow, but because the degree proved I possessed the nose-to-the-grindstone attitude they wanted on their team. Being a Bucknell electrical engineer taught me problem-solving: how to identify key questions, prioritize approaches to solutions and work hard to implement those solutions.

Peter Murchison ’73, P’02 with weapons voluntarily turned in at a gun buyback in Norwalk, Conn., in October 2019
Photo: Sean M. Higgins
Peter Murchison ’73, P’02 with weapons voluntarily turned in at a gun buyback in Norwalk, Conn., in October 2019.
Life changed for me and my extended family in December 2012, when the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting took the life of my nephew Daniel Barden in his first-grade classroom. Our family was devastated, as was all of America. Still, I was inspired by the parents who managed to channel their grief into positive actions.

One parent leader is Mark Barden, my brother-in-law and Daniel’s father, who co-founded Sandy Hook Promise in 2013. The nonprofit organization runs free programs in school systems across the nation, encouraging students to “know the signs” indicating when students may soon cause harm to themselves or others. Sandy Hook Promise also works to end student isolation and bullying. Pennsylvania has been a leader in embracing the program, last year becoming the first state to commit to placing the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System in all schools.

My own journey to activism began when I started by showing up and supporting the voices of other activists already out there. I attended rallies and remembrance vigils in Washington, D.C., and Hartford, Conn., and I wore T-shirts and wristbands from organizations trying to address gun violence. But I felt I needed to and could do more. I knew I had to find my own voice, and I decided to use my engineering training to determine where I could best apply my skills to make a difference. I realized I had many resources upon which to draw:

  • As a Quaker, I feel tied to a long line of activists who have worked to eliminate violence of all kinds.
  • As a business person, I have years of experience speaking publicly and helping clients solve tough problems.
  • As a member of a family of gun violence survivors, I know that gun violence must be addressed.

My goal is to get as many people as possible to search their hearts and then take action. I am convinced that if all Americans think deeply about gun violence, we will find solutions that work and realize that most of us are actually on the same page. I have expressed this point of view at meetings in state capitals and Washington, D.C., as well as with many faith-based organizations.

In summer and fall 2019, I and a woman from my Quaker meeting organized a voluntary gun buyback in a small Connecticut city. In partnership with the city’s mayor and police chief, we collected 42 weapons, including two assault weapons. I raised money through a crowdfunding site to buy these guns that people no longer wanted in their homes. In partnership with another group that owned a forge and anvil, we melted down and hammered the dismantled weapons into gardening tools that we will donate to local community gardening programs. How’s that for a modern version of Isaiah’s proclamation that we should beat “swords into plowshares?”

I continue on my journey, convinced that gun violence will ultimately be prevented by a change of heart and not just a change of legislation. My light isn’t strong enough to allow me to see the end of the path. But I am continuing to use the skills I learned at Bucknell to “work the problem” and hopefully make progress in my lifetime.

Peter Murchison ’73 lives in Ridgefield, Conn. He is retired from his corporate career and is putting his energy into family and the work described above. He can be reached at pdmurch@gmail.com.