Four years ago, Michael Kalish envisioned creating a sculpture from illegal guns. But he didn’t necessarily want to melt them down until they were unrecognizable to accomplish that goal.
But there was one problem. How does an internationally renowned artist get gun parts?
That’s when he sought out Jessica Mindich, CEO of Jewelry for a Cause and founder of Raise the Caliber.
Mindich and her organization run voluntary gun buyback programs in Newark, N.J., and are active in the movement to help end gun violence.
Mindich was able to deliver 2,000 pounds of shredded illegal firearms to Kalish to help him create the sculpture. Kalish said they arrived by police escort at his studio.
There are parts from Uzis, Glocks, sniper rifles, AK-47s, and pistols incorporated into the sculpture. Mindich said she worried that she would “scar him [Kalish] with the angry energy and the pain coming from this metal.”
“Amazingly Michael absorbed all of it and churned it through his passion for this project to create the ‘Raise the Caliber’ tribute monument,” Mindich explained Wednesday during an unveiling ceremony in Bushnell Park.
Kalish said it took him two weeks to touch the first gun, but once he did he realized it was “about breathing new life into something that was part of something so tragic.”
Kalish said he couldn’t comment on the policies or the politics related to guns. “All I can do is be creatively disruptive and bring people together,” Kalish said.
That’s exactly what Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said they hope this sculpture does.
“Illegal gun violence has taken way too many lives,” Segarra said Wednesday. “In Hartford, we have chosen not to accept it.”
Malloy touted the drop in crime since the enactment of tougher gun laws following the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which claimed the lives of 20 children and six educators.
In 2011, there were 129 murders in the state, with 81 of those occurring in three cities, Malloy said. Since passing the bill in 2013 and new initiatives like Project Longevity, “we’ve made real progress.”
He said using 2011 as a base year, homicides have decreased by 32 percent in the state and by 31 percent in Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport. Shootings have also decreased overall, he said.
But there’s still work to be done.
Malloy reminded those who attended the ceremony Wednesday that where Congress has failed, Connecticut has taken a bipartisan approach to reducing gun violence.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, who fought to get legislation passed in the Senate last year, said “Democracy is broken when 90 percent of Americans can’t get what they want.”
He was referring to a 2013 poll that found that 90 percent of Americans supported universal background checks. But Congress has been unable to pass federal legislation that would require background checks on all gun purchases.
Murphy said it was gatherings like the one in Bushnell Park for the unveiling of the sculpture that helps them “recommit themselves by any means possible” to the cause of eliminating illegal gun violence.
The sculpture, which looks like a handshake, will remain in the park for about nine months before it moves to Detroit.
Attendees of Wednesday’s unveiling said they could remember the last time a new piece of public art came to Bushnell Park.