How cartoonists are adopting gun culture after the Highland Park shooting

Sandy Hook Elementary School. San Bernardino. Stoneman Douglas High. Uvalde. AR-15 style guns are so common in American mass shootings that graphics journalist Mike Thompson researched the rifles and asked a question:

How difficult would it be to get a weapon “capable of firing the standard ammunition used by NATO troops at 3,000 feet per second,” as he put it?

The Detroit-area-based artist and animator went to two gun shows to find out. He then turned the project into an illustrated report, which he had already scheduled for publication on Tuesday, the day after the July 4 mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, which killed seven people.

“Unfortunately, the answer is that it’s incredibly easy to get hold of a gun like this,” says Thompson, a former Detroit Free Press and USA Today cartoonist. He spent about two weeks producing an illustration and an animated video that was syndicated by Counterpoint.

Thompson says he has “no problem” with people owning firearms for self-defense — but not just any gun.

“My concerns with the AR-15 are the speed of the gun – which is insanely high – the type of ammo it can fire and the fact that it can be easily modified to become fully automatic,” says Thompson, noting : “It is not necessary that civilians possess such incredibly powerful weapons and that nobody outside of the military needs to possess such ammunition.”

In creating the project, the artist, who hadn’t had much previous exposure to gun culture, was struck by “how polite and nice everyone was at both gun shows I attended. I couldn’t help but notice the contrast between the courtesy of sellers and potential buyers and the fact that AR-15 style rifles were for sale.”

Ultimately, his cartoon highlights how quick the background check was – and how quickly he was able to exit a show with a “battlefield-ready” weapon.

Here’s what some artists told The Washington Post about the work they’ve created since filming in Highland Park:

“The tragic events at Highland Park were a very grim reminder of the rapid pace of mass shootings in the United States that year. So when I returned to the newsroom on Tuesday, I wasn’t just thinking about the madness that had transpired the previous day — I was thinking about the madness that has stalked this country, on average, every single day in 2022. Life in a shooting gallery seemed to capture the uncertainty of life in America. That this gallery was run by the NRA seemed like a fitting tribute to those most responsible for this uncertainty.”

— Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

“When I came up with the idea, I was thinking about how each year as Americans we celebrate our freedom and independence while growing in fear for family, friends and our fellow citizens – as maniacs continue to have access to military-style weapons.” Americans need to wake up and vote out those who are unwilling to oppose the NRA.”

– Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal Constitution

“Mass shootings are like a Mobius strip, and I’m getting tired of commenting on something that American society isn’t moving forward fast enough to prevent. It’s like, ‘The NRA presents ‘Groundhog Day.’ ‘ I thought of the horrible damage these freaks and their federal enablers are doing to social order, and how useless and emotionally chilling it is practical to comment on.

— Jack Ohman, The Sacramento Bee

“The cartoon was obviously made for the Highland Park shooting, but I think it applies to a lot of the mass shootings. When these tragedies first happen and there is little to no information, I see people on social media immediately speculating about the shooter’s race and political affiliations. I think people are looking and trying to understand these senseless acts. With no answers, we suspect.”

– Tim Campell, counterpoint

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