Tuesday, March 6, 2018

“Death Toll”

“Death Toll” by Susan Brubaker Knapp
29 x 63" Copyright 2018
This piece grew from my absolute despair and frustration over the mounting death toll from guns in America. The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day hit especially close to my heart. The children killed and injured, and those who so eloquently spoke out afterward, could have been my own. In their faces, I see my children’s friends – the soccer players, the members of the marching band. The teachers, the football coach – they could have been my children’s educators.  

The image of the rifle I painted is an AR-15, one of the most popular weapons of mass shooters, and the one used at Marjory Stoneman Douglas; I chose it to represent military-style weapons that are easily available in this country, and are chosen by mass murderers because they are very easy to use, and can inflict maximum carnage and the highest death toll. 

The 17 blood-red roses represent the 17 teachers and young people taken at America’s latest tragedy, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I wanted the roses to blot out part of the gun, and provide beauty against the ugly, mechanized lines of the rifle. They are linked (by the green vine) forever. The dove represents peace, and the Holy Spirit, who sits unafraid on the gun’s mouth. The stenciled gold clock gears symbolize time running out for the victims, and time running out for us to find a solution before we have more victims to bury. I chose this stencil design because it also resembles targets or bullet holes. 

The space at the bottom was left purposefully empty, to suggest that there are many more deaths to come, that the death toll will rise until we compel our government to do something about our gun laws. 

After painting the entire surface of the white fabric, I started to position pieces of white paper with “tic marks” to help determine the space needed for each of the victims killed in shootings during the last 35 years where AR-15s were the primary weapons. After I had the arrangement the way I wanted it, I painted the tic marks in a transparent gray paint. 

My timeline starts with the killing of two people in 1984. The next shooting, which killed six, was in 2007, followed by a shooting that killed 12. 

Why the gap after 1984 with no deaths? Part of the explanation might be the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (officially the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994) that prohibited the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms it defined as assault weapons, and some ammunition magazines defined as “large capacity.” It only applied to weapons manufactured after the date the ban was enacted. 

The 10-year ban was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton on Sept. 13, 1994. It expired Sept. 13, 2004, in accordance with its sunset provision. The next mass shooting with an AR-15 was in 2007. Since then, the shootings have become more frequent and more deadly. The second row of tic marks in “Death Toll” indicate the elementary school students and their teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. Look at how many people have died since then. 

The following information is from USA Today’s article, “Why the AR-15 keeps appearing at America’s deadliest mass shootings,” Feb. 14, 2018. 

The National Rifle Association has called the AR-15 — the semi-automatic, civilian version of the military’s M-16 — the “most popular rifle in America” and estimates Americans own more than 8 million of them. 
The name AR-15 (AR stands for ArmaLite, not assault rifle, which is a common misconception) is trademarked by the firearms manufacturer Colt. But since the patent on the weapon's operating system ran out, a host of other manufacturers began making their own variants of the popular rifle.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry's trade association, campaigned to have AR-platform rifles referred to as “modern sporting rifles,” or MSRs, both to avoid confusion and to try to stem the reference to the rifles with the politically loaded “assault rifle” label. 
Here is a list of mass shootings in the U.S. that featured AR-15-style rifles during the last 35 years, courtesy of the Stanford Geospatial Center and Stanford Libraries and USA TODAY research:
  • Feb. 24, 1984: Tyrone Mitchell, 28, used an AR-15, a Stoeger 12-gauge shotgun and a Winchester 12-gauge shotgun to kill two and wound 12 at 49th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles before killing himself.
  • Oct. 7, 2007: Tyler Peterson, 20, used an AR-15 to kill six and injure one at an apartment in Crandon, Wis., before killing himself.
  • June 20, 2012: James Eagan Holmes, 24, used an AR-15-style .223-caliber Smith and Wesson rifle with a 100-round magazine, a 12-gauge Remington shotgun and two .40-caliber Glock semi-automatic pistols to kill 12 and injure 58 at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.
  • Dec. 14, 2012: Adam Lanza, 20, used an AR-15-style rifle, a .223-caliber Bushmaster, to kill 27 people — his mother, 20 students and six teachers — in Newtown, Conn., before killing himself.
  • June 7, 2013: John Zawahri, 23, used an AR-15-style .223-caliber rifle and a .44-caliber Remington revolver to kill five and injure three at a home in Santa Monica, Calif., before he was killed.
  • March 19, 2015: Justin Fowler, 24, used an AR-15 to kill one and injure two on a street in Little Water, N.M., before he was killed.
  • May 31, 2015: Jeffrey Scott Pitts, 36, used an AR-15 and .45-caliber handgun to kill two and injure two at a store in Conyers, Ga., before he was killed.
  • Oct. 31, 2015: Noah Jacob Harpham, 33, used an AR-15, a .357-caliber revolver and a 9mm semi-automatic pistol to kill three on a street in Colorado Springs, Colo., before he was killed.
  • Dec. 2, 2015: Syed Rizwyan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, 28 and 27, used two AR-15-style, .223-caliber Remington rifles and two 9 mm handguns to kill 14 and injure 21 at his workplace in San Bernardino, Calif., before they were killed.
  • June 12, 2016: Omar Mateen, 29, used an AR-15 style rifle (a Sig Sauer MCX), and a 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistol to kill 49 people and injure 50 at an Orlando nightclub before he was killed.
  • Oct. 1, 2017: Stephen Paddock, 64, used a stockpile of guns including an AR-15 to kill 58 people and injure hundreds at a music festival in Las Vegas before he killed himself.
  • Nov. 5, 2017: Devin Kelley, 26, used an AR-15 style Ruger rifle to kill 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, before he was killed.
  • Feb. 14, 2018: Police say Nikolas Cruz, 19, used an AR-15-style rifle to kill 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.  

Last, I added the names of the cities and dates of the shootings involving AR-15s, with their groupings of victims.  


  1. i can't understand why. why guns of this nature are needed. why there is no control. i grieve with you.

  2. Thank you for this eloquent quilt.

  3. This is a masterpiece in its artistic value but also for the message. You have created imagery that explains our gun problem in a way that just grabs at the viewers heart. Juxtaposing those roses with the lethal weapon is just wow! Bravo, my friend.

  4. Every stitch a prayer. Thank you for this
    heart felt work.

  5. Your creation is powerful and could be the gun control banner. You should submit it to some of the agencies.

  6. Outside of thinking Zombies are real, I will never understand exactly what they are planning to hunt with these "sporting" rifles. The fact that you can turn your grief into a beautiful artwork with a powerful statement is a testament to your creativity and talent. Thank you for sharing it.

  7. There have been 7 school shootings in Washington state since 1994.

    1. So sorry to hear this, Jean. (The deaths recorded on this quilt are only those inflicted by AR-15s.)

  8. A sobering quilt that shares an important message. I stand with you in opposing the sale of this gun (and others like it) and I will vote for politicians who feel the same way.

  9. Thank you for this piece. It is so poignant. I am an alumna of Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Class of 1993. The city of Coral Springs and Parkland have begun to collect things that memorialize the mass shooting to be displayed. I wonder if you are interested in seeing if this piece could be displayed. Just an idea.

  10. This is such a poignant piece. Thank you for creating it and sharing it. I am an alumna of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, class of 93. The cities of Coral Springs and Parkland are collecting items that memorialize Feb 14, 2018 for a future display. I wonder if you would be interested in seeing if they could display this important piece. Just an idea.

    1. I would be honored to have it included in the display. I'll look for information about it. Thank you.

  11. I, too made a work of fiber art (although mine is not quilted)as a statement about mass shootings. I started mine in January, although I already had the idea.. I had to wait until January because my piece records mass shootings day by day for 2017. Ironically and horribly, I finished it on Feb. 14, shortly before I heard the news about Parkland. I am hoping it will be accepted in art shows.

  12. The tears are running down my cheeks as I read your explanation of the meaning behind this incredibly moving work of art. I've always admired your artistic talent but this piece is beyond words... My niece is one of the students who ran for her life at Stoneman Douglas and we are still reeling. Thank you for expressing our emotions so eloquently with your art.

    1. So sorry to hear that your niece was there. The trauma from these events ripples outward and affects so many people.


I love it when you leave comments… Otherwise I feel like I'm just talking to myself! If you have time to write, please let me know what you think.