Five months ago one of my sculptures was seized by the ATF. Agents visited my art dealer with orders to confiscate "Improvised Shotgun - White" following a citizen complaint. The citizen/agency questioned the legality of the manufacturing and trafficking of the alleged weapon.

art seized by the BATFE
Last week, the lengthy (and undoubtedly expensive) investigation was closed. While I held my breath, ATF engineers spent months - or maybe just a day - attempting to fire a standard 12 gauge round through my improvised shotgun sculpture. In the end, they met with success.

While I have yet to see any evidence that the sculpture was successfully weaponized, the BATFE has informed me that they have classified my sculpture as a firearm, placing it within jurisdiction of the infamous Gun Control Act (GCA). Hence it would appear that, the act of making the sculpture and my transference of said sculpture to art gallery in Los Angeles was illegal.

ATF Cease and DesistAs outlined by the letter you see here (click to enlarge), the ATF considers my actions "unlawful manufacture and transfer of firearms" which carry the penalty of "imprisonment for not more than 5 years and/or a fine of up to $250,000." So, why am I not in jail? In a word; context. I am not an arms manufacturer, nor am I an arms trafficker - I am an artist. Fortunately, the ATF appears to agree.

Is it illegal to manufacture firearms and traffic them across state lines without proper permits, etc.? You bet it is; and I would highly recommend that you do not try this at home. However, given the context of my unique situation a decision was made to pass on enforcement of the crimes I allegedly committed. (I continue to maintain that there was no actual crime.)  

In an earlier post I remarked that questioning, researching and debating the laws we are forced to live by is the very essence of a democratic state. As an artist, I routinely push against boundaries, conventions, and in this instance, the GCA, in order to ask difficult questions about my life and the world around me. My art is speech, and my speech is protected. I can only assume that this was the rationale that led the ATF to issue me (in person) a cease and desist and take no further action.

ATF Abandoned Property ReleaseThis simultaneous vilification and vindication has been nothing short of inspirational. I am proud of the ATF for making what I believe is a sensible call, and thankful to not be engaged in a lengthy legal battle over the nature of my work. Whereas I am disheartened to lose the sculpture, since the BATFE has refused to return it to me, I will be writing it off as an unrecoverable business loss in 2012.

On a very personal note, I feel a renewed sense of purpose and faith in my work. This experience has reaffirmed that by continuing to ask questions and following my ideas to their natural end - regardless of difficulty or intimidation - I will inevitably find moments of truth and beauty.


*I am continuing to seek hard evidence (photographic/video) that the sculpture in question was successfully weaponized in the BATFE lab. If/when I obtain this, I will post a follow up.*
In the meantime, I would like to remind
anyone reading this post to read the disclaimers on my Project Statement Page and do your own research before undertaking any actions that may be dangerous or illegal where you reside.

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