Under the Gun: Gun Violence in America – Graphic Design as a Reactive Catalyst of Thought



Van Meer, James X

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This final project and thesis describe gun violence in America through a statistical lens, emphasizing the implementation of graphic design to evoke a response from the audience. Advanced typography, grid design, vector theory and application, 3-D and environmental graphics, color theory, lighting design, and video have been employed in an attempt to bring the statistics to life and to engage audiences in sane conversation on a particularly volatile subject. There are often visceral opposing views when the subject of guns, especially handguns, is brought up in modern American society. Studies are cited that show gun violence data, the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is bandied about, and arguments ensue of whether guns kill people or people kill people. One side portends that the problem is exaggerated because responsible gun owners do not contribute to the problem while the opposing side believes that gun violence is a serious public health threat, and the only safe gun is no gun at all. Growing up in a family that owned guns (both handguns and rifles), my view of American gun violence was neither pro nor con for the longest time. I was raised in what I consider to be a normal, middle-class suburban environment. My father was a bluecollar worker, my mother worked as a legal secretary until the onset of health issues, and I attended elementary, middle, and high school in Rockville, Maryland. I grew up seeing President Kennedy assassinated, his brother Robert Kennedy slain, and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X gunned down. Never one to be involved in politics, I didn’t pay much attention to the gun violence taking place in the 60s—I didn’t live in that circle, so why should I care? Then May 4, 1970 changed my view of guns. May 4th was a Monday, and it was the day that twenty-eight of the more than seventy Ohio National Guardsmen called to Kent State University fired their rifles and pistols into a crowd of student protesters, killing nine and injuring thirteen. The debate over cause and blame continues to this day, but one fact remains—a 13-second fusillade of bullets ruined lives and altered my belief system in ways I still have yet to fully comprehend. Gun violence has touched me personally as well. I have a long-time friend who was shot in his workplace during an armed robbery. My friend almost died, and he changed in ways I could not comprehend. I couldn’t bring myself to imagine what he felt seeing the barrel of a handgun pointed at him, the searing hot pain of the shot, or the aftermath of a psyche cleaved by gun violence. I still can’t fathom what he’s been through. For years I bounced back and forth on both sides of the gun debate fence. After my parents had retired to the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina, the family gun tradition continued. My dad owned a hunting rifle, a shotgun, and three pistols. Two of the guns were Christmas gifts from me—I walked into a gun store, filled out some forms, and walked out with the guns. Piece of cake. My dad’s guns were used for hunting and for self-protection. My folks lived in the country where just about everyone owned a gun, and the only time I can recall a handgun being fired was when a large, wild cat had come too close to the house. When my parents passed away I had the task of clearing out their possessions. Of course, I came across the guns, and after selling the handguns at a local gun shop, I brought the hunting rifle and shotgun back to my home in Virginia, eventually selling them to a friend, an avid hunter. I didn’t think about keeping any of my father’s guns. I didn’t want to have anything to do with them. And I still don’t. They scare me because I know the destructive power that can be unleashed from them. It’s that inherent destructive power and the toll that gun violence takes I am hoping to portray. My final project and thesis are an attempt to allow people to see the cold-hard facts of gun violence in America and let them ponder the effects that guns have on this country. Through the use of interpretive graphics, storytelling, and experiential methods, it is my intent to further the dialogue about guns and gun violence through a thoughtful perspective. Guns have the power to injure, the power to kill, the power to ruin lives. Does graphic design, as a catalyst for thought, have the power to alter views, or at the very least, lead to different perspectives? We’ll never know unless we seed the conversation.


This thesis is accompanied by a supplemental file.


Gun violence, Graphic design, Data in graphic form, Under the gun, Catalyst of thought, Reaction