The power and security promised by guns has always appealed to young people, especially young men. But the appeal of guns is based on lies. Guns are more likely to endanger people than to protect them, especially young people who are not trained to use them.
Much of the recent gun violence in and around Pittsburgh has involved teenagers, both as shooters and victims. The Easter Sunday North Side Airbnb shooting took place at a miners’ party; the murdered boys, Matthew Steffy-Ross and Jaiden Brown, were both 17 years old. It is likely that the shooters were also high school age.
Less than a week later, police arrested a 16-year-old boy from McKees Rocks for shooting a 15-year-old. In the house where the arrest took place, there were three handguns, two bricks of heroin and more than $2,000 in cash.
McKeesport. Homewood. Allentown. Brooklyn. All places where teenagers have been shot in the past 12 months, often by their peers. Of the 56 people killed by guns in Pittsburgh last year, 15 were children, the Post-Gazette reported.
In 2020, firearms overtook car crashes as the leading cause of death among children, with more than 4,300 deaths, or around 10% of all firearm-related deaths, according to a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine.
Pittsburgh police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found that about half of guns recovered from minors are stolen; at least 1 in 10 are unregistered, home-made “ghost weapons”. These weapons are in constant demand on the black market, fueling the supply chain.
Teenagers are tied up for protection. Given the violence in the community, it’s easy to see why packing a gun becomes routine. Guns are becoming status symbols, but their proliferation puts everyone at risk.
Caitlin McNulty, executive director of Brookline Teen Outreach, said young people tell her that carrying a gun gives them a “sense of control,” with the power to handle chaotic circumstances. She and her staff try to convince them that carrying guns has the opposite effect.
With so many guns on the street, their might and power will overwhelm a child. The promise of power and security turns into anxiety and mistrust. Everyone becomes a potentially lethal threat.
Vows to use firearms only in self-defense are forgotten when the immature spirit is forced to fight or flight.
Johnny Cash captured this psychology perfectly in his 1958 hit, “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.” Billy Joe defies his mother and takes his guns to the saloon, promising not to shoot wantonly. However, when an older cowboy mocks him, he feels he must defend his honor and grabs his gun. “But the stranger pulled out his gun and fired before he even saw.”
Enlightened gun control policies can lessen the carnage, but they will not eliminate the culture of violence. Schools and other institutions need to present children with credible voices – voices of street experience – who can show them that the promise and appeal of guns is a lie. Until then, the cycle of violence will continue.