Welcome to the Gun Show


It started as a simple and wholesome architecture lesson with my 5th grade students.

We were all drawing our buildings and adding in 3 implied textures, when I noticed all kids of strange details in one student’s artwork. So I went in closer to take a peek….

The student added several security guards protecting his house.  They were on the rooftops, they were in the in the grass. This was the safest house on the block. The kicker? All the guards had weapons, which sends out the art teacher red flag really fast.

Aren’t these images hilarious and equally frustrating?  As an art teacher I am sure you deal with this as often as I do. Boys love to draw them some guns. Love it. I spend so much time combating this issues.  I have a policy in the art room. No guns.  This might seem harsh, and I always feel bad when a student is legitimately interested in hunting, however, in today’s day and age, I just don’t like taking any risks or having anything come back to me and the art room as promoting violence. Remember that artwork can be served as legal documentation.

Another thing is historical significance. So, if I am doing a lesson on the pioneers and they are drawing a landscape, can they add a rifle in the person’s pocket? Or, for the Royal Portraits that I do, the kings may have a sword handle sicking out. Is this over the line?? Here is where I struggle.

How do we avoid it, though?  It’s all over TV, movies, and video games for these kids. Is it unrealistic to think we should just ignore or ban any kind of violent imagery, but in a school setting, I think it’s necessary.

How do you handle violence in artwork?


Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Jill

    My policy is “no blood or weapons.”  I make exceptions for weapons that go with a person’s job, i.e a police officer with a gun in his holster but NOT shooting someone, or a knight with sword but NOT a knight lopping off someone’s head.  Usually when I explain it this way kids understand.  If not, I have them erase it.  

    • Hi Jill,

      I really like the way you put this- How you added in the profession of the person as a deciding factor. Seems like a good way to rationalize this with kiddos. Thanks for sharing!

  • marieelcin

    It’s really tough. In so many ways guns and weaponry seems a natural part of “boy” play (even as a girl I played with my uncle’s old toy pistols in cops & robbers play). Our fear of seeing it in kid art seems to be like the art ed version of hover parenting.
     I had a 7th grader last semester do an advertisement project where he showed a video game character with the words “Assassinate your problem” underneath. I didn’t realize it was a phrase from the “Assassin’s Creed” video game, and coaxed him to change it to “Obliterate your problem” (slightly less violent-sounding?) However, the incident created an opportunity for our class to critically discuss violence in our culture. Isn’t that what we want in the long run? For students to be able to think critically, especially about social issues?
    On the other hand, we’ve got to listen to our “red flags”. It would be worth noting down recurring incidents to see if an intervention should be considered.

    • NatalieM310

      I have had similar conversations come up with my Middle School classes. We do a DVD menu project and, not surprisingly, many of them have seen PG-13 & R rated movies. I always use the opportunity to discuss the fact that, now that they are getting older, they need to be able to differentiate between what is appropriate at home vs. school. When I explain that this is a very “adult” mentality (we as teachers have to dress appropriately and use professional language at school) they seem to understand better. It is also a great time for the “know the audience you are designing for” conversation.

  • Mcbartos

    At our elementary school we have always had a policy of ” no weapons and no blood”. This policy is everywhere. T shirts, Halloween costumes, artwork etc. most of the kids know this policy but with violence being literally everywhere some tend to forget. I usually have one vigilant student come and tell me that so and so is drawing weapons. Yesterday I did these really cute clay flower bowls and this morning I noticed a drawing of a man holding a gun like he was going to shoot it. That will be a treat for that mother on mothers day.. Maybe I can try to erase it with some water. Hmmmm

    • “That will be a treat for mothers day”… I am laughing out loud sitting here at my desk! Oh my. No one would believe us if they knew the things we go through as arts educators! Thank you for chiming in on the topic!

  • Kathy

    I tell my students-“no blood, guts, guns, knives, bombs, or fire that hurts someone”. I have said this so many times that the students say it with me.

    • April

      Similar to the saying in my room.  “No blood, guts, guns, gore or violence.” 

  • Deb

    I linked my policy back to the school community.  I say that as a school we have a “no tolerance” policy on weapons and violence.  It usually is a non-issue once they hear that it comes from the top down.

  • guest

    I explain to kids that there is a difference between “zombie-violence” and “real violence” and that as a rule of thumb, if they would feel uncomfortable showing their drawing to the principal…then it probably isn’t appropriate for school

    • I like the idea of using the principal question to kids. It would really make them think.
      Thank you for sharing

  • Megan George

    I tell the kids that if you’re not allowed to bring the item to school than it cannot be in your artwork (weapons, drugs, alcohol) or if you can not do the activity at school than it can’t be in your artwork (killing, fighting, poisoning, kissing, etc). That usually clears things up.

  • Ms. Novak

    Much like everyone else I have a general “No Weapon” policy in my room – this includes throwing starts, light sabers, knives – etc.  I also don’t put up with kids pretending to use fingers as guns or use any materials as a sword — “No weapons at school”.  HOWEVER, I do have some exceptions to that rule.  I have students that have parents that serve in the armed forces and I feel that part of the kids way of coping with that is to draw their parent.  So, if a student asks about drawing their parent with a gun or what not – we talk about how weapons aren’t suppose to be at school, so if they really want to then they need to be at resting position — gun pointed up over their shoulder and not pointed at anything or anyone.  Most of my kids that want to do a picture of their parent want them in this position anyway – a kind of noble stance.  So, my general rule is NO WEAPONS – with a few thought out exceptions.  

    When I had middle school – I had a whole UNIT around weapons in artwork and how it can be misinterpreted and how, as an artist, you have responsibility on how people act upon your work – especially when you have a younger audience.  

    • Andrea Verbeek

      Having a unit on weapons in art work sounds like a great idea for middle school and jr high. It will give them a frame of reference for high school.  Students need to understand how art effects the viewer and weapons is a touchy subject. I think it’s great. Thanks

  • erica

    Always have to be a few of those! Haven’t had a lot this year, despite the fact that violence has been up in our city in a huge way. Gun violence is serious and I really don’t have any room for violence in art. I don’t even give them an option with it. The answer is “no” when it comes to “can I add a (you fill in the weapon of choice). . .” 

  • hope knight

    This is a toughie – I have an 11 year old son who is naturally interested in weapons of all sorts, and this has helped me to realize that the object itself isn’t the issue, it’s the act of violence.  I don’t mind if a student draws a picture of a building and puts a “shooting range” sign or drawing of a gun on the store sign, but I don’t allow drawings of anyone using a weapon or demonstrating a violent act.  

  • Kaely

    I just found your blog and I’m definitely enjoying it.  This is an interesting topic and one I’d not really thought about in terms of art class.  Earlier this year I read a book about getting boys excited about writing.  One of the sections of the book was devoted to boys and the use of violent imagery in their writing.  The author talked about how the adult desire to censor “boy themes” is often one of the things that turns boys away from writing.  Is it possible that this could be true of art class as well?  In the literature taught at school, especially as kids get older, there is plenty of violence and Art History has it’s fair share of violent images.  If it’s okay for kids to learn about it in school, why is not okay for them to write it or draw it themselves?

    • Good conversation to pursue further, I think you have some excellent points, and we do need to provide boys on their level. I am just not sure where to draw the line.

  • Karenbrooks

    Hi. Love your blog! I tell students, if it’s not allowed in school… It’s not allowed in their artwork. If they really want to debate it… Like a cell phone…. I tellthem they are welcome to write me and the pricipal a persuassive letter to convince us otherwise (4th graders learn about persuassive writing so, it’s a perfect connection!). This technique strikes a balance between what is safe and logical and … Working for a compromise. I don’t ever feel like i’m an art teacher cop!

  • Anastasia Kierst

    Our yearly outlet for the Guns’n Ammo crew is the Veterans Day Art Contest. Over the years, my students and I have amassed hundreds of dollars in art supplies courtesy of the the veterans. This is one of our first activities of the year and drawing massive, dangerously armed jets, aircraft carriers and assorted artillery seems to get it out of their systems for the rest of the year.

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