Behind the Cover: How Guns Won

Photo-Illustration by Bartholomew Cooke for TIME
Photo-Illustration by Bartholomew Cooke for TIME
The cover featuring an image of an AR-15 assault rifle for the August 6, 2012 issue of TIME, by Bartholomew Cooke.

“Guns don’t actually kill people” is sometimes a refrain from gun rights advocates when they run low on arguments in a policy discussion. On an incredibly basic level this is true. A gun itself is no more responsible for a death than a knife or an axe or any other instrument meant to harm and kill; the blame for a death falls on the person wielding them. But in the category of modern weapons–especially guns–the make, model and accessories matter a great deal.

When James Holmes allegedly stormed into a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. to maim and murder as many people as possible, he reportedly wielded an AR-15-type assault rifle. Holmes added an accessory: a 100-round drum that looks like two small film reels attached to the bottom of the weapon. This addition allowed him to fire round after round without reloading, which is what he allegedly did until the weapon jammed.

To produce this week’s cover, TIME commissioned Bartholomew Cooke, a talented young photographer who specializes in capturing the power of inanimate objects. When TIME asked Cooke to photograph the types of weapons—an assault rifle, two pistols and a shotgun—that were allegedly used in the massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., there were several difficult considerations. Cooke had photographed weapons before, but not in the connotation of a horrific tragedy. “It was important that I didn’t want to glamorize them, but I still did want to create a compelling graphic image,” Cooke says. “Figuring out how to photograph the gun was difficult. I certainly wouldn’t want images I create to cause anyone pain in any way.”

Bartholomew Cooke is a photographer based in Los Angeles and a regular contributor to TIME. See more of his work here.

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CARNIVORE’S DILEMMA PERMITTED USE: This image may be downloaded or is otherwise provided at no charge for one-time use for coverage or promotion of National Geographic magazine dated November 2014 and exclusively in conjunction thereof. No copying, distribution or archiving permitted. Sublicensing, sale or resale is prohibited. REQUIRED CREDIT AND CAPTION: All image uses must bear the copyright notice and be properly credited to the relevant photographer, as shown in this metadata, and must be accompanied by a caption, which makes reference to NGM. Any uses in which the image appears without proper copyright notice, photographer credit and a caption referencing NGM are subject to paid licensing. Mandatory usage requirements:1. Include mandatory photo credit with each image © Brian Finke/National Geographic2. Show the November cover of National Geographic somewhere in the post (credit: National Geographic) unless using only one image - you do not have to show the cover3. Provide a prominent link to: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/meat/4. Mention that the images are from "the November issue of National Geographic magazine”Beef is big in Texas. Last year in the state, ten times as many calves were born, 3.85 million, as human babies.At the Big Texan in Amarillo—which offers free rides in a longhorn limo—you get your 72-ounce steak for free ifyou finish it in under an hour, along with the shrimp cocktail, the baked potato, the salad, and the roll.

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