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United States of Ammunition Goes to Washington

Yes, I actually purchased tiny Trump flags and even worse, tiny Confederate flags.

by Maureen Cain.

Washington, DC. United States Capitol. January 6, 2021

During the pandemic when it was unsafe to travel, I slowed down on my United States of Ammunition project, but gun violence in America didn't slow down at all. In fact, shootings and gun sales in the U.S. hit record highs in the last few years. Now that it's safer to travel, I'm back on the road photographing sites of gun violence and speaking about American gun culture. Since I started this project in 2019, I've been to 100+ sites of shootings in 24 states.

In Washington, DC, I photographed famous sites like the U.S. Capitol Building, where one person was killed by gunfire during the January 6th insurrection. In the days following the riot, several law enforcement officers who were attacked at the Capitol died by self-inflicted gunshot wounds. While I was setting up my casings and unfortunate flags, two Capitol Police officers stood a few yards behind me watching me work. One passerby saw my tiny Confederate flags and called me a traitor. He wasn't interested in learning what I was doing; he just wanted to yell at me.

Ronald Reagan assassination attempt. March 1981

I also took a photograph at the Washington Hilton where John Hinckley attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Locals call the hotel "Hinckley Hilton." I bought a bag of jelly beans in honor of The Gipper and stretched out face first a little too close to a pile of stinky dog poo to take my picture.

I joined a group of school children and tourists for a tour of Ford's Theatre and, when the tour guide was looking the other way, pulled a handful of red bullet casings out of my bag and set them up on the red velvet railing. In the background of the photo you can see the box seats where President Abraham Lincoln was shot and a tourist miming the assassination.

Abraham Lincoln assassination. April 1865

But most of the gun violence happening in Washington, DC and across the United States doesn't happen at famous landmarks. It happens in everyday locations to everyday people. In May 2022, 32-year-old Emmanuel Lys was shot and killed in a tent community near Thomas Circle where he had been living. Like all American cities, DC has a large population of people experiencing homelessness, making them particularly vulnerable to violence.

Near Thomas Circle where Emmanuel Lys was killed. May 2022

Of course gun violence happens in upscale parts of town too. I photographed my bullet casings in front of Edmund Burke School, a private school in the Van Ness neighborhood of Washington, DC where a gunman fired more than 239 shots indiscriminately toward the school, injuring four people, including a 12-year-old child. When people see me lying on the sidewalk, they often stop to see what I'm doing or check if I'm okay. In front of the Burke School, a woman stopped and asked what I was photographing. When we told her about my project, she got teary and thanked me for my work.

I'm honored to have my Burke School photograph, seen below, used to accompany a Washington Business Journal opinion piece by local business leader Lisa Wise titled Gun Violence is Everywhere -- Except on Business Agendas.

Burke School shooting. April 2022

There was one site in particular that I wanted to photograph in Washington: the Georgia Ave-Petworth Metro Station where I heard there had been, on average, one shooting a month between May and October of 2022. But when I did more research, I learned that there had actually been 16 incidents of gun violence at that location in the last two years. It was important to me to memorialize each of those shootings, so I spent the morning arranging and rearranging bullet casings in front of the Metro sign, photographing them 16 times.

Georgia Ave-Petworth Metro Station. 18-year-old girl killed. June 2022
Georgia Ave-Petworth Metro Station. Three people injured in a drive-by shooting. September 2022
Georgia Ave-Petworth Metro Station. 16 shootings between Nov 2020 and Oct 2022

Maureen Cain

Artist & Speaker

Gun violence data from Gun Violence Archive.

You can view more photos at United States of Ammunition.

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Special thank you to Michelle, the very patient Washington, DC Moms Demand Action volunteer who accompanied me on my photoshoots at Georgia Ave-Petworth Metro Station.


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