Not so many years ago, an elementary or middle school student eager to impress a classmate might have stuffed a live frog into the pocket of his windbreaker. Today, the object might turn out to be a .32-caliber revolver. In the past, a dispute among teenagers, brought on by a shoulder bumped in the hallway or a remark about a girlfriend, might have ended in a bloody nose, not a pool of blood. Whether in Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, Houston, or Los Angeles, in school or at home, thousands of children, many of whom have had no history of troublemaking, are packing an arsenal of weapons. "Kids are dangerous; they always have been,'' says Lawrence Sherman, a criminology professor at the University of Maryland. "And now that we've got guns . . . '' "Unless we control guns in the streets,'' he says, "we're going to have to start building our schools like castles.''
The fact that more children and teenagers are toting guns and ammunition is relatively easy to document through a flood of statistical and anecdotal evidence. Much harder to nail down with any certainty are the reasons why children feel compelled to carry and use guns. Their prevalence in relation to gang activity and drug trafficking has attracted much attention and study over the past several years. The same is true of the troubling questions raised by accidental shootings and suicides. But what remains much more elusive is why a youngster-- from the suburbs or an inner city--who may not be directly involved in gangs or drugs would have access to, carry, and even intentionally use a firearm.