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How cartoonists are taking on gun culture after Highland Park shooting

Michigan artist-animator Mike Thompson visited two gun shows to learn what's required to buy an AR-15-style weapon. This illustrated reporting piece is based upon what he learned. (Mike Thompson/Counterpoint)
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Sandy Hook Elementary. San Bernardino. Stoneman Douglas High. Uvalde. AR-15-style weapons are so common in American mass shootings that graphics journalist Mike Thompson read up on the rifles and asked himself a question:

How difficult would it be to obtain a weapon “that can fire the standard round 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 that he already had planned for release Tuesday, the day after the Fourth of July parade mass shooting in Highland Park, Ill., that killed seven people.

“The answer, unfortunately, is that it is mind-numbingly simple to obtain such a weapon,” says Thompson, a former Detroit Free Press and USA Today cartoonist. He spent about two weeks producing an illustration and an animated video syndicated by Counterpoint.

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

“My concern with the AR-15 is the weapon’s velocity — which is insanely high — the type of ammunition it can fire and the fact that it can easily be modified to become fully automatic,” says Thompson, who noted: “There’s no need for civilians to possess such incredibly powerful weapons and no need for anyone outside the military to possess such ammunition.”

In creating the project, the artist, who didn’t have much prior experience with gun culture, says he was struck by “how polite and nice everyone was at both the gun shows I visited. I couldn’t help but notice the contrast between the civility of the vendors and potential buyers, vs. the fact that AR-15-style rifles were being offered for sale.”

Ultimately, his cartoon highlights how rapid the background check was — and how quickly he could leave a show with a weapon “suited for the battlefield.”

Here is what some artists told The Washington Post about work they have created since the Highland Park shooting:

“The tragic events in Highland Park served as a very grim reminder of the torrid pace of mass shootings in the United States this year. So when I returned to the newsroom Tuesday, I wasn’t just thinking about the insanity that occurred the day before — I was thinking about the madness that, on average, has plagued this country every single day of 2022. Living inside a shooting gallery seemed to capture the insecurity of life in America. Having that gallery operated by the NRA seemed to properly credit those most responsible for that insecurity.”

— Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

“Coming up with the idea, I thought about how we, as Americans, yearly celebrate our freedom and Independence while feeling increasingly scared for family, friends and our fellow citizens — as maniacs continue to be allowed access to military-type weapons. Americans need to wake up and vote out those unwilling to buck the NRA.”

— Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal Constitution

“Mass shooting events are like a Möbius strip, and I am getting weary of trying to comment on something that American society isn’t moving fast enough to prevent. It’s like ‘The NRA presents “Groundhog Day.” ’ I thought of the dreadful damage these freaks and their federal enablers are inflicting on social order, and how commenting on this is practically useless and emotionally horrifying.”

— Jack Ohman, The Sacramento Bee

“The cartoon was obviously created because of the Highland Park shooting, but I think it applies to many of the mass shootings. When these tragedies first happen and there is little to no information, I see people on social media immediately speculating on the race and political affiliations of the shooter. I think people are searching and trying to make sense of these senseless acts. Without answers, we guess.”

— Tim Campbell, Counterpoint

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