There’s more than one way to finance the fight against violence and illegal guns. You can march. You can lobby to change gun laws. Or, in a relatively new twist, you could buy jewelry made from guns confiscated in Cook County.
Wednesday night, at a Chicago Ideas Week event, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announced a partnership with gunmetal jewelry maker Liberty United (LU). The county’s confiscated guns — some 1,000 a year — will be broken apart and given to LU, which was created by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management grad Peter Thum.
While on stage at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, and talking about gun control, Dart kicked off the program by handing Thum a piece of a Colt semi-automatic weapon. (The rest of the gun was backstage in an evidence bag.)
“We are taking over 1,500 guns we get off the street [to be] turned into beautiful jewelry to be sold for [the] community,” said Dart.
And outside, in the hallway, the masses swarmed the sale table, where jewelry, priced from $80 to $825, was on display. Liberty United has been turning illegal guns and bullet casings into jewelry for three years. This is their first partnership with Cook County. (Thum’s other business, Founderie47, turns AK47s found in countries such as the Congo, into jewelry and timepieces that can retail for as high as $185,000.)
“The mission of our organization is to stop gun violence in America and make children and their communities safer,” says Thum. “People in the U.S. are socially cautious about expressing their views about this topic, but this brand is also a vehicle for people to talk about, and to express, or to take a stance on gun violence and what they think and feel.”
Made of melted steel and the brass casings of spent bullets, the often stylish pieces feature celebrity designers. In other words, they aren’t cheaply-made: A black gunmetal cuff with gold, retails for $825. Other pieces include earrings and dainty necklaces, plus cuffs for men. Some of the pieces are expensive because the steel barrels of guns are quite difficult to melt down and repurpose, said Thom.
“It’s quite tricky to make things out of steel,” said Thum. “The pieces we make involve quite a bit of complex reheating and reforming. Most jewelry manufacturing is done with very soft metals that are very malleable, like brass and silver and gold. Steel is very hard.”
Some might find a certain irony in that (presumably) well-off people are buying weapons-based baubles. Each piece even has the gun’s serial number incorporated into the design. But Thum believes the muted bling makes the topic of gun violence accessible for those who think they are unaffected by the violence — or think they have nothing to do with current gun policy (or lack thereof). It also gives people a chance to wear a conversation starter. “People are starting to realize there is a way and there are things they can do beyond holding their private views,” he said.
There’s no word yet on how many pieces were sold Wednesday night. Proceeds from sales will go to Children’s Home + Aid.