Artsy Zip Guns

Every so often I get an email from a conceptual artist who is obsessed with the artistic merit of putting a gun on display. Rarely do they exhibit beautiful guns, but instead poorly made, badly modified or kitschy blinged out guns. My theory is that eventually conceptual artists eventually run out of metaphors for genetalia and need to find the next thing to shock the public. The artsy crowd is apparently easily shocked by guns sitting inside locked glass display cases.

One artist, Tom Sachs, claims to have made guns not for their artistic metric but for profit. After realizing guns could be made easily and cheaply, he run a small manufacturing racket producing functional zip guns to sell to a New York City gun buyback program for up to $300 a piece.

These are a few of the guns he has displayed …

Hand Gun, .45 Caliber, Breech-loading, Handmade
Shotgun, 12 Guage, Breech-Loading, Handmade

[ Many thanks to Max for emailing us the link. ]

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Mouse

    Ha! I think I like this guy. I’d feel bad about taking tax money though… /: (I’m assuming it’s a police department buy back program.)

    • RocketScientist

      Why feel bad about taking tax money? I look at it as taking BACK tax money. I’ve been paying it my whole life, and not getting a damn thing back. Yes, I get roads and infrastructure. But most of that was built before I was born, and the small amount of maintenance required to offset the amount of wear and tear I am personally responsible for is diddly compared to what I’ve paid over the years.

      • John

        LOLOLOLOLOL. I hope you’re a “buy local” type. If you aren’t, you should go around your house and check where all of the objects came from. If any come from overseas, you’re deluding yourself. CVBGs don’t come cheap.

        No man is an island,
        Entire of itself.
        Each is a piece of the continent,
        A part of the main.
        -John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions: Meditation XVII

        While that passage that quote is from is most directly relating to the author’s (potentially)impending death, another conclusion that we can draw is that just as the death of someone leaves humanity the poorer, the lack of contribution from a citizen leaves their society poorer and less able to care for its charges. You are personally responsible for more than you imagine.

      • RocketScientist


        Here’s a quote from an author that actually lived this century (not 500 years ago) talking about this exact topic (mans supposed “responsibility” to society at the expense of his own life and wealth) not some navel-gazing contemplation of mortality. And don’t get me wrong, I love Donne, some of the best romantic poetry out there (check out “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning”) but I wouldn’t use him in a political argument.

        “I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”
        Ayn Rand

        You say: “the lack of contribution from a citizen leaves their society poorer and less able to care for its charges. You are personally responsible for more than you imagine.” I am a free man, as such I am responsible only for that which I choose to be. I never asked to be responsible for the rest of the world. If you truly believe what you say, then why limit it to within the US? There should be a wolrd-wide confiscatory tax on everyone to support third-world countries. My only responsibility is to myself and my family. Suggesting that I have some obligation to surrender my hard-earned wealth to support someone else, just because they happen to have less talent, or have applied the talents they DO posses less effectively than I, is morally corrupt. I didn’t inherit any money. All I have I earned myself. My mother was 18 when she had me (her 4th child) and I grew up in immigrant ghettos in Miami. My father and her worked themselves exhausted to provide all us children a private-school education (completely at their own expense, no vouchers). I worked hard in school, got a congressional nomination to attend the US Air Force Academy, worked hard there, worked hard in grad school (for which I paid my own way too, wasn’t ‘poor’ enough to qualify for Pell grants or gov’t subsidized loans). I made a lot of sacrifices and put decade’s worth of effort to get where I am now making the money I am now. Why should I be forced to give one penny to someone else who has done NONE of those things (if they had, they’d be where I am)?? And you say not only should I be forced to do this, but I should feel HAPPY about it??? The only reason I pay taxes is because if I refused, and continued to refuse, eventually a group of men from the gov’t would come with guns to force me into a small room with metal bars for several years. I prefer to maintain the veneer of freedom left to me (at least until the tyranny of the masses takes even that away).

  • Doug

    Sometimes a private company will donate so much money or gift cards to the police departments to conduct “buy-backs”. In that case it’s not tax payer money except for the PD’s overtime budget.

    Either way, “buy-backs” are on some type of budget and have only a certain amount of guns they can take in… at least for giving something in return. If enough gunners would do this and be first in line, the good guys would get the cash. However, if you see someone clearly playing the part of a bad guy, let him cut in front of you.

    • If you are buying something from a criminal, you should expect to get burnt.

      From what I have seen these buy backs net some really poor specimens. Mostly old, unsafe and rusted guns people have in their basement and never got round to destroying.

      The other type of gun is pistol that junkie mothers and grandmothers steal from their gangster sons sock drawer in order to buy their next hit (a $300 walmart voucher can easily be sold outside walmart for $200). I really feel for these woman, they are probably going to get the beating of their poor miserable lives when the owner of the gun figures out they stole it.

      Meanwhile, the the cash ends up with the drug dealers, who probably use it to buy better guns.

      A pointless system but it does give the mayor a great photo op, standing next to a pile of rusted ‘gats’.

  • noob

    I love the decals on the sides of the guns. especially the NASA gun.

  • tudza

    The artist should be required to actually fire these before selling them.

    It’s cute how the pistols have a serial number. Seems both ( the pistols appear to be different and not images of the same pistol ) have the same number though.

    • Rob

      Gotta like his sense of humor.
      The pistols have different serial numbers; they end in “100” and “101”.

  • Rob

    Spamming the system. I like this guy.

  • Mr. Fahrenheit

    LOL! “Hecho En Switzerland”

    • Other Steve

      Funniest thing I’ve seen all week.

    • pete

      I was thinking the same thing; I like the artists sense of humor

  • Matt G.

    The serial numbers and “hecho en Switzerland” made me lol.

    • Sian

      “Hecho in Switzerland” is the best thing ever.

  • Grant

    “After realizing guns could be made easily and cheaply, he run a small manufacturing racket producing functional zip guns to sell to a New York City gun buyback program for up to $300 a piece.”

    I wish I’d thought of that. Genius.

  • I wonder if he has a Type 07 FFL required for firearms manufacturers. Given that the BATFE now considers rebluing or fitting new sights to be “manufacturing”, this guy has crossed way over that line. I’ll bet he hasn’t even registered with the State Department. They are currently pushing Type 07 FFL holders to register under ITAR even if they have never exported anything.

    • Sian

      If you’re not selling the guns, anyone can manufacture firearms for their own personal use… or for turning them in on ‘no questions asked’ gun buybacks.

      • Ah, but he just admitted in public that he was building them to sell. I imagine that NY and NYC have even stricter laws on this matter. But it’s all good, he’s just an artist…

        Seriously though, the BATFE’s ever expanding interpretation of “manufacturing”, combined with the State Department’s insistence that all firearms manufacturers register under ITAR is causing a lot of heartburn amongst gunsmiths. A Type 07 FFL costs more than a Type 01 FFL, and then there is the added cost of ITAR registration. Afterwards, the gunsmith may find that his insurance company demands higher rates as his potential liability just shot up now that he is technically a firearm manufacturer, and/or his bank no longer want to do business with a firearm manufacturer.

        To give you an idea of how ridiculous it is getting, if a gunsmith takes a customer’s gun and reblues it, it only requires a Type 01 FFL. If the gunsmith buys the same gun, reblues it, and then sells it, he needs a Type 07 FFL. By rebluing it and then selling it, he has now legally become a firearm manufacturer…never mind the fact that it was already a complete firearm from Remington, Smith & Wesson, etc.

      • Sian

        I’m no lawyer, but I think turning them in to the city is a different operation from a legal transfer of ownership, and that would make a difference.

  • Slim934

    More proof that gun buy-backs are a complete and total con. No active criminal would sell a perfectly working firearm for that amount of money, so instead they sell whatever they can pass off as one. Not that this person is really a criminal, but he’s basically taken that practice to its logical conclusion.

  • Mike Knox

    Hee-hee, “NASA”.

    Sort of silly and cool at the same time since I’ve built some zip-guns myself. Once out of a busted Maglite..

  • Sian

    These gun buyback programs are so stupid and a waste of taxpayer money, I’m glad there’s people exploiting them, but how is this better than turning in a box full of junk and non-functional guns picked up for $25 each (as I guy I know does whenever he can)?

  • West

    I like this guy, way to take advantage of an ineffectual, feel-good, BS government program that will do jack-diddly s*** to decrease gun violence in NYC. They probably have guys driving up from North Carolina to cash in on this.

  • C3PO

    Tom Sachs is a wildly successful artist/sculptor. I know one of his assistants. They do shoot the guns. These shown here are pieces of art, not buyback-schemes, although if you know any real artists/artist assistant you know they’re poor and would take advantage of said buyback program in order to fund their paint/supplies and beer habit.

  • D

    Once made a “gun” of a sort out of copper tubing, a block of wood, some hot glue, some home made “gunpowder” (really closer to serpentine then gunpowder as we’d know it), some rocks (ammo!) and a bit of cannon fuse (trigger!). Used some paper towel as “wadding”.

    the only problem with it was that the copper pipe got very hot, and melted the hot glue. Functionally, however, it did sort of shoot, the first shot, although the charge was very anemic due to poor compounding on the gunpowder.

    What’d happened is we had the home made gunpowder, but didn’t want to risk firing it out of a black powder gun; so we made a gun to test it out in.

    Was an interesting exercise at least. I have never ran so far from something with a lit fuse in my entire life, i think i was probably 40 feet away when the thing finally went off.

  • PCP

    Those are actually some quite nice and viable designs if the barrel and the frame are strong enough, almost a “real” gun. But yeah… shoot before selling them. At the first look it’s really not that bad, I’ve seeing worst crap jerry-rigged in the engineering school by freshmen.

    Also, its diametrical opposite: Simplicity itself.

  • Chipsa

    The pistols are probably still illegal to even have, as they’d be smoothbore pistols, and therefore AOWs, if he didn’t have the machinery to rifle the bore. Which is unlikely. However, if you could pick up real pistol barrels for really cheap, that problem goes away.

    • Short barrel smooth-bore weapons only count as AOWs if they’re made to fire shotgun shells. If not, they are just pistols.

      • Flounder

        I’m not 100% sure on this one but I believe part of being a pistol or a rifle is having a rifled bore and only shotguns can have a smooth bore. Check out the ATF’s website for the definition of AOW. I think it includes guns that have a smooth bore.

        I seem to remember that just cause it was a big hurdle for someone to build a gun at home because it had to have a rifled barrel or be NFA… So most everyone who has built a gun (that I can find on the internet so it’s not all encompassing) has used a barrel from a professional manufacturer.

        BUT back to the topic at hand!!!! I LOVE THIS KID!!! Course what he did was pretty illegal but still!!! I love how he is sticking it to NYC! These stupid gun buy backs never result in anything good! Steve’s comment down the page is right on the money goes straight to criminals and only removes guns that are complete crap. Although it looks good to liberals when they buyback a 50 dollar lorcin that’s rusted to heck and destroy it.

  • El Duderino

    1. Buy Airsoft guns
    2. Remove orange cap
    3. Profit!

  • UberBob

    I have a crappy 22lr which broke on me I would happily sell it for $300…

    • Iamnoone

      I have an old Daisy .22 single shot that I could turn into a 10/22…except I do like the Daisy as a unique old gun.

  • Hobbnob

    I personally think that firearms should either be used for self-defence or competition target shooting. These look good for neither.

    “The artsy crowd is apparently easily shocked by guns sitting inside locked glass display cases”

    Would appreciate it if you didn’t stereotype all artists as pretentious hipsters, I’ve spent just as much time with my rifle as I have my pencil, and I quite happily ridicule these ignorant retards whenever I meet them. All artists are not like you think.

    • boskone

      “artsy” is not the same as “artist”, I think. I usually only call pretentious people with no skill that concoct reasons for the poor quality of their work as artsy. People who actually know what they’re doing are a while different ball game.

      That guy that paints repetitive nature scenes? More of an artist than that other dude that paints a line on canvas and calls it social commentary.

      • Hobbnob

        Truer words never spoken, a shame the ‘artsy’ pricks get all the money nowadays (though I’m very much a beginner so I wouldn’t get much :P)

        Thanks for understanding, judging by my dislikes it is a rare thing here 🙂

  • Tinkerer

    If any of you would like to create some “art”, then take a look at the book: “Homemade guns and homemade ammo”, by Ronald B. Brown. The designs seen here look like they were taken straight from said book.

  • I think people are always fascinated by home made/improvised weapons.There is a certain austereness and intrigue to them. That is why prisons and police departments often display them. Now take a guy who recognizes the appeal and makes his own home made weapons. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of his stuff shows up on NYPD’s display board. Very clever dude.

  • Komrad

    Those pistols actually look pretty slick. A little smoothing and a plate or something on the trigger to make it more comfortable and they’d be downright comfy in the hand. I bet the barrels are unrifled though and there aren’t any sights anyway.
    Still pretty cool. Almost makes me want to try my hand at it, though I’d rather keep all my fingers.

  • “Gauge” not “Guage”

  • Iamnoone

    I was also thinking about the ‘manufacturing’ implication as far as the BATFE’s laws go. Unless he has some sort of license, I’d think that he’s in trouble. Or is there a loop in those laws?

    • Cymond

      As discussed below, the ‘loophole’ is quite simple. It’s perfectly legal to manufacture guns at home without a license as long as they are for personal use only. (Assuming the gun itself is unrestricted. This doesn’t apply to NFA stuff or whatnot.) No markings or serial number are required. I’ve always heard these ‘buy backs’ are no-questions-asked, but do the write down names? I wonder how many zip guns one guy can turn in before the cops get suspicious.

      Also, to the poster below, they check the guns to make sure they’re real. Some ‘buybacks’ will accept toys like cap guns & bb guns, but at a much, much lower payout.

  • Darkvisor

    For the most part, I agree with you. However, being so bigoted against the “hipster” seems quite harsh. It’s a fairly broad term and covers many forms of artistic expressionists (bad phrasing, but I hope you get the point). I actually quite like the handgun displayed above. It seems to be fairly well made for its type and I think it’s quite artistic in it’s own way. Just take a moment to observe the lines it presents so clearly. The fastener thing is perfectly perpendicular to the spring, and the whole feel of the design gives it a very clean appearance. The touch with the reversed cartridges is also rather nicely done.

    The thing a beyond ugly, it looks poorly concieved and I would not trust my life on it, but it does add another dimension to the “art” community that I find sorely lacking in originality.
    But hey, opinions are all we really have. If you think firearms shouldn’t be made to look pretty and are not a fashion accessory, well it’s your decision.

    I do agree though about your opinion that firearms shouldn’t be a form of art. I mean, I wouldn’t want to be caught possessing a pistol with a vibrant pink slide and fluoro yellow grips. That would just be ridiculous (it would match my shoes though).

    I’d like to add that you missed one important use of firearms: pest control. They do provide the humble farmer with the reach required to eradicate a pig infestation without personal risk, so they are justifiable in the hands of the common folk for areas other than the range.

  • CynicOwl

    So gun buybacks at least save us from more douchy hipster art.
    That’s something, I guess.