Standing in front of Providence's Federal Courthouse in Rhode Island is an unusual monument constructed out of steel, concrete and 1000 used handguns. Dubbed the Gun Totem by its artist, Boris Bally, the imposing obelisk was constructed in 2001 with guns from a firearm buy-back program called Guns for Goods, founded by Dr. Michael P. Hirsch.
Hirsch and former colleague Matthew Masiello founded Guns for Goods in Pittsburgh in 1994, while working in trauma centers at area hospitals during a time of high crime. Researching gun-buy-back programs in locations such as New York, Hirsch and Masiello decided to try their own version of the program in Pittsburgh – but instead of buying back guns for cash reimbursements, they offered gift cards from local merchants in trade for the forgotten or unwanted weapons. To date, Guns for Goods has collected more 11,000 weapons off the streets of Pittsburgh.
When Hirsch and Boris Bally met, eventually the conversation morphed into a notion of making artwork out of the reclaimed guns – which typically would have been sent to a local metal shop for demolition. Gun Totem is a result of this coalition. More than 1000 guns went into the construction of the pillar, which was commissioned by the Providence Parks Department. All of the guns included in the project were disabled and fossilized beneath concrete, and bits of the pillar were chipped away so people could see the deadly interior.
Bally and Hirsch is working on another public art piece incorporating roughly 1,000 pounds of dismantled buy-back weapons collected from several cities around the U.S.
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