Artist Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin, 17, was killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. earlier this year, helped design the statues as a way to raise awareness of the dangers students face while attending class.
“I know my son — he was a cool dude — and I know he would think this statue is a really powerful way to get our message across,” Oliver said. “That’s what art does, it stops people, makes them think. It connects with people in a more powerful way than trying to talk them into it.”
The statue of a child hiding under a school desk during a lockdown procedure — something many students practice in schools across the country — has the goal of “showing in one stark image what gun violence has come to in America,” Oliver said.
When sunlight hits the 3-D multimedia installations, they appear as if they are made of bronze. The desk has graffiti scratched into its surface with gun-control messaging and information about where people can text to register to vote.
“We have been calling them chilling, pop-up art installations,” said Sean Leonard, an advertising creative director based in Texas who worked with Oliver on the project. “We keep going back to the fact that statues are typically celebratory or honoring someone, but we are taking that idea and flipping it. We wanted the realism. You should feel unsettled when viewing these.”
The method used to create the statue, 3-D printing, also evokes one aspect of the American gun debate. Federal courts recently blocked a Trump administration decision that would have allowed the publication of designs for printing 3-D guns, a move that numerous state attorneys general and gun-control advocates said could allow anyone to obtain a firearm, including those who are unable to pass background checks for gun purchases.
The Parkland shooting, on Feb. 14, spurred immediate and vocal activism from students there, who have hoped to spark a nationwide discussion about gun laws. Their efforts have included voting drives for youths, lobbying local, state and federal lawmakers, and awareness campaigns.
Gun-rights groups argue that the activists’ targets — guns — are not the real problem.
“There are layers upon layers of gun laws that restrict who can carry them, but criminals do not pay attention to the law,” said Alice Tripp, legislative director for the Texas State Rifle Association. “I understand the students’ frustration, but if it’s not a firearm, it’s a pressure cooker bomb or someone who drives into a crowd of people.”
Tripp said lockdown drills are important, noting that any suggestion of doing away with them is naive and puts people at risk: “It’s like saying criminals are trying to break into a house, without protecting the house.”
The Saturday voter drives are in conjunction with the gun-control group Giffords and other organizations, which picked districts where elected officials have backed the gun lobby.
In Irvine, for instance, Skye Wagoner, 22, an engineering student at California State University at Long Beach, is holding the first part of her event outside of Orange County Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s office. Wagoner will be on Huntington Beach with one of the statues and with 22 desks to symbolize the 22 children who are shot in America each day.
A fifth-grader is scheduled to speak about how she recently had a live-shooter drill and said she was terrified because she and her friends didn’t realize it was a drill.
“The statue of a real kid hiding to me shows the impact of these active shooter drills. . . . This is what we are doing to our generation,” Wagoner said. “I think it’s really a wake-up call to our country and especially to the older generation. I don’t think they realize that these active-shooter drills are now as common as earthquake drills.”