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Minneapolis gun buyback aims to turn firearms into art

While economists argue guns versus butter, officials in one American city aim to reduce gun violence by transforming firearms into art.

The City of Minneapolis plans to hold two gun-buyback events this weekend, paying gun owners for unwanted weapons that, in turn, will be given to local artists. The artists will use the guns to create statements about the impact of gun violence.

The objects will appear in a forthcoming exhibit, “Art is My Weapon: A Minnesota Installation of Guns in the Hands of Artists.”

As incentive to gun owners to surrender their weapons, the organizers are offering tiered payments. Depending on the type of weapon, owners will be offered Visa gift cards ranging from $25 to $300. The cards will be offered while supplies last.

“What I like about this initiative is it is deeply personal and it brings attention and emotion to a societal issue that really affects us all,” Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau said in a statement.

The exhibit will do much to prompt conversations about gun violence, he added. 

A similar exhibit appeared in Minneapolis in May. Some of the creations, shown online, depict the gruesome results of gun violence, highlighting the gory aftermath of gunshot wounds.

Others seem humorous, such as a comic-book-style word balloon, dangling from a chain, emblazoned with the word, “Bang!” One display is a Ouija board whose “Good Bye” option carries pointed meaning. Another is an elegant fusion of cylinders from six-shooter revolvers.

Visitors have had varying reactions to the exhibits.

“The gumball machine is sort of stupid,” said gun aficionado Robert Montrose of Minneapolis, referring to a classic red vending machine containing prizes encased in colorful plastic tubs. “I don't see the point.”

Another viewer saw much meaning in two exhibits that graphically depict what she termed “how present these machines are in lives.”

“I think it's a grotesque, sort of unnerving way to portray it and that really makes great art with a sense everyone can understand,” said Amanda Rutledge, an artist who served as a gunners mate in the U.S. Navy, handling an array of military weapons.

One piece in particular — a rifle turned into a primitive club, with a rock tied to its barell — stood out for the artist-turned-weapons expert.

The piece “goes in a direction that shows weapons as they are on their own — tools — by comparing it to tools that our ancestors have,” Rutledge said. “They are more than just murderous objects in a hand.”

The artist who created that particular exhibit wrote that it was meant to show how weapons offer provisioning, self-defense, recreation and other purposes.

“I think it's good to realize that it's not just something people only use to kill, and that the trouble with violence maybe is deeper than just the object,” Rutledge said.

City officials are enthusiastic about the program that uses art to address a social issue.

“I am very excited that we can creatively use the tool of a gun buyback to fuel this vital conversation through the arts,” Mayor Betsy Hodges said in a statement.

The art element notwithstanding, buyback programs don't serve their stated purpose, critics suggest.

“Gun buys like this don't do anything for gun violence,” said Andrew Rothman, president of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance of Minnesota. “It's a feel-good measure.”

The theory underlying gun buy-back programs is badly flawed, according to a 2005 multi-author study from the National Academy of Sciences.

“… the empirical evidence demonstrates the ineffectiveness of these programs,” wrote the authors of “Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review.”

Buyback programs do not reach the intended audience of potential criminals, the authors wrote.

“Typically, the guns turned in tend to be of two types: (1) old, malfunctioning guns whose resale value is less than the reward offered in buy-back programs or (2) guns owned by individuals who derive little value from the possession of the guns,” the report reads.

“Some old folks will bring in Grandpa's gun from World War II, and sometimes a magnificent specimen will be destroyed,” Rothman told AMI Newswire.

The buybacks offer an opportunity to unload cheap weapons, though, Rothman said — or to buy good ones from other sellers.

“I have a .22 in very sad shape,” Rothman said. “I wouldn't risk shooting it. It will be worth $200 of their money.” 

The gun-rights activist will bring his own cash incentives.

“Hopefully there will be some decent firearms for sale,” Rothman said. “I will not be the only gun owner looking for a bargain.”

The program will be funded through donations collected by the Pillsbury United Communities. The buybacks will be held on Aug. 27 at two Minneapolis fire stations.

The art will eventually will be offered for sale.