There are a few things that are quite unusual about the new Cross X Liberty United pen. The first is that it’s not immediately obvious how you access the writing tip of the pen, which is submerged within its barrel. You don’t click at the top, as you do with many pens, or rotate the barrel to push out the tip. Instead, you pull the two halves of the pen apart, and with an audible click, the tip emerges from the writing end. It feels not unlike cocking a gun.
That’s not an accident. The Cross X Liberty United pen is supposed to remind you of a gun. It’s the result of an extraordinary partnership between Cross, the oldest pen manufacturer in the United States, and social entrepreneur Peter Thum, who has started two brands: Fonderie 47 and Liberty United, whose respective goals are to remove guns from circulation in Africa and to protect at-risk children in the United States from gun violence.
Most Americans have encountered Thum’s work without realizing it. In 2001, while working for the consulting firm McKinsey in South Africa, Thum saw people living in villages that lacked access to clean water. So he founded Ethos Water, a bottled water brand whose sales helped fund clean water projects in Africa. In 2005 he sold that company to Starbucks, where you can still buy the bottled water, sales of which have funded water access to more than half a million people globally.
During his work with Ethos, Thum encountered boys and men toting assault rifles, which inspired him to found Fonderie 47. That company takes confiscated illicit AK-47s from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, melts them down, and transforms the resulting steel into high-end jewelry, watches and pens. It has now destroyed over 70,000 AK-47s and other guns in Africa.
Fonderie 47 was (and is) a success, but it left Thum with a dilemma—two dilemmas, actually. The first was that, as an American, he was acutely aware that African nations were hardly the only countries burdened with the tragedy of gun violence. “There are many more guns here in the U.S. than in the entire continent of Africa,” Thum points out. Most of them are legal, but many are not. The second dilemma was that Fonderie 47 products were expensive, often in the five to six figures—out of reach of most people, and thereby limiting the company’s ability to raise awareness.
“Liberty United takes illegal guns out of circulation, melts them down, incorporates the steel into consumer products.”
To address the first problem, in 2013 Thum and his wife, Cara Buono, an actress now appearing in the Netflix show Stranger Things, founded Liberty United, which would apply the Fonderie 47 model domestically. Working with police departments in cities around the country, Liberty United takes illegal guns out of circulation, melts them down, incorporates the steel into consumer products and then returns a portion of the proceeds to nonprofit organizations working to improve the lives of disadvantaged children. The venture has helped more than 3,000 children across the U.S. to date.
To further address the second problem—making those consumer products both beautiful and affordable—Thum has partnered with Cross. The Cross X Liberty United pen, which integrates gunmetal into the top of the cap, is the result. Also on the pen’s clip there is a serial number of an illegal gun removed from circulation. It’s a gorgeous pen that writes effortlessly and looks quite cool—it feels a little sexy, a little dangerous. In that way, this pen is true to its origins—it reminds people of the seductive allure that guns can have, while capturing that allure in a force for good, a pen.
The Cross X Liberty United pen is a force for good not just because of the freedom of expression pens embody, but because the profits from it help kids with tough lives. In Chicago, for example, Thum obtains illegal guns from Cook County sheriff Thomas Dart, and Liberty United helps fund an organization called Children’s Home and Aid that works with at-risk children in areas of Chicago that have been decimated by gun violence.
“In inner-city Chicago, the level of risk and peril to children and families is extremely high,” says Nancy Ronquillo, the CEO of Children’s Home and Aid. In the Englewood neighborhood, Children’s Home and Aid works with about 200 at-risk children. Forty-five percent of them, Ronquillo says, “have seen someone dead or dying or watched or heard someone being killed.” These are children growing up traumatized, damaged.
“To have a partner like Peter Thum,” Ronquillo continues, “who understands that you could eliminate illegal weapons from the street and start a cycle that produces beauty…. You start to create a different world. This Cross pen initiative is going to be good for our kids and for the world.”
“It’s no secret that I’m an advocate of smart gun policy,” says Robert Baird, Cross CEO. “Each year, more than 17,000 American children fall victim to gun violence. Just one child is too many.”