Back in 2012, we reported on a controversy over LEGO Heavy Weapons, a guide on building toy guns out of LEGO bricks written by Jack Streat, a then teenaged resident of the United Kingdom. Some parents were aghast that the much-loved children’s toy could be used to make “confrontational” playthings. When the same publisher followed up by releasing Forbidden LEGO: Build the Models Your Parents Warned You Against (authored by two former employees of the LEGO firm), Britain’s Daily Telegraph virtually guaranteed a boost in book sales by apparently describing it as “the Anarchist Cookbook of the nursery.”
The same sort of peculiar overreaction has surfaced again, this time in relation to an art exhibit in Britain of “stunning, thought provoking and often humorous artworks” geared towards “art enthusiasts and LEGO fans alike.” The Brick by Brick exhibition at Nottinghamshire’s Harley Gallery features LEGO-inspired art by 18 international artists. The objects on display include a Brick Gun, built out of multicolored LEGO bricks, and similar depictions of firearms by Belfast artist David Turner.
The Gun Control Network has attacked the inclusion of his artwork because these depictions allegedly amount to glamorizing or promoting guns. According to the group, the suggestion that the work “has any artistic value whatsoever is completely nonsense.” The anti-gunners add a final, clunky bit of rubbish thinking by warning of the public safety risk “posed to the community” because the artwork guns “could be accessed by those wishing to use them to enable crime.”
Statistics on crimes committed using LEGO guns (or squirt guns or pop tarts in the shape of guns) are hard to come by. However, the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that offenses involving firearms “make up a small proportion of overall police recorded crime. In the year ending March 2018, they were used in approximately 0.2% of all police recorded offences.” The latest report by the ONS on the nature of violent crime in England and Wales (Sept. 2019) shows no percentage change in the number of police-recorded offences involving firearms had occurred. (It did, however, report a significant increase in the number of offences involving knives or sharp instruments from the previous year. Knife crimes were 46% higher than when comparable recording began in 2011 and were “the highest on record.”)
In the case of Mr. Turner, the claims of the Gun Control Network are not a little untethered to reality. As he explains on his homepage, Mr. Turner’s artwork reflects his childhood experience of “growing up in turbulent Belfast during the ‘70s” as well as drawing “upon considerations on present and historical conflicts and terrorist attacks in the world,” and is “intended as a critical commentary on the atrocities and glorification of war and violence.”
Another troubling feature of the opposition to this art is the disturbing mindset it reveals. Not only are real, actual firearms themselves marginalized as toxic, but everything from toys to t-shirts to art and culture on a broader scale are all similarly defiled and to be despised for simply representing or referencing guns.
The Harley Gallery, to its credit, has resisted demands that that Mr. Turner’s art be purged from the exhibit. After all, art is supposed to provoke emotion – some would say the whole point of art is the artist’s emotional or aesthetic expression and the partaker’s response.