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Guns in the Hands of Artists: A book of art and essays on guns and gun violence in America
Every copy of this book you order is a vote for thoughtful conversation rather than knee-jerk partisanship.

By: Jonathan Ferrara

NEW ORLEANS, LA.- “Guns” and “art” are not frequently mentioned alongside one another. They seem unlikely bedfellows. Guns are masculine, brawny, populist; by contrast, art is thought to be feminine, intellectual, elitist (both incorrectly and unfortunately). Art is the mirror of life, but it must be more: it must be an agent of change, a vehicle for dialogue and the betterment of the world.

In the 1990s, New Orleans’ murder rate exploded. In 1996, it reached 350: the highest in the city’s history and the highest in the nation. In response to this crisis, artist Brian Borrello and I mounted the first Guns in the Hands of Artists exhibition. Decommissioned guns (taken off the streets via a goods-for-guns swap) were given to over 60 artists to use as raw materials in their art. Painters, glass artists, sculptors, photographers, poets, and other artists turned the decommissioned firearms into art. Each artist used the guns in their medium to express a thought, make a statement, open a discussion—and stimulate thinking about guns and gun violence in our culture.

Guns in the Hands of Artists 2014
Gun violence remains an unfortunate fixture in our society. From the kid on the street corner killed by a stray bullet, to mass murders at Columbine and Sandy Hook, gun violence continues to wreak havoc across America.

Eighteen years after the first exhibition, I felt compelled to revisit the exhibition and reopen the dialogue that was started many years ago. By taking guns off the streets and giving them to artists, Guns in the Hands of Artists fosters an important and rare type of conversation about guns in our society: one absent the partisan vitriol that seems to inevitably surround the debate. Guns in the Hands of Artists brings the conversation into the realm of art; art as means for dialogue.

In late 2012, I started working with the New Orleans Police Department and the City of New Orleans to acquire 186 firearms to be decommissioned and distributed to over thirty nationally renowned artists. Since the opening in October, over 10,000 people have visited the exhibition and experienced these impactful and provocative works of art. The exhibition will now begin to travel the country starting at The Aspen Institute this summer for The Aspen Ideas Festival and The Aspen Action Forum.

The Book
But even on a national tour, the exhibit will not be seen by enough people. So in order to reach more people, I am launching the exhibit as a book. It will pair photographs of the artwork with a collection of essays on guns and gun violence by nationally known thought leaders: a moderate, sensible conversation on guns and gun violence in our society. I am enormously excited to share that Walter Isaacson will be writing the introduction.

While gun violence is an omnipresent threat, guns are a part of American society and we all know they aren't going anywhere, The overwhelming majority of guns are owned bylaw-abiding citizens who never use them outside the narrowly prescribed bound of the law. Most practically, barring a constitutional amendment, there is simply no chance at “banning” guns. Being universally anti-gun seems deaf to common sense. It’s a rhetorical position: it may be intellectually or philosophically pleasing, but it’s practically unhelpful.

As an exhibition, Guns in the Hands of Artists approached this tension in a thoughtful manner infrequently evidenced in today's rancorous political debate. As a book, Guns in the Hands of Artists will not only bring this art home to those unable to visit the exhibition, but provide essays that expound upon the themes presented in the exhibit.

Help Tell This Story
Art is not just the mirror of life, but an agent of dialogue, and perhaps even change.

Every copy of this book you order is a vote for thoughtful conversation rather than knee-jerk partisanship.

Every copy of this book that ends up in someone's house is a reminder that doing better requires all of us caring about this issue. So, to echo those profound words, we must each ask: If not me, who? And if not now, when?

A portion of the royalties from book sales will be donated to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

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Guns in the Hands of Artists: A book of art and essays on guns and gun violence in America

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