ABC News Experiment Pairs College-Age Kids and Guns

Photo: Older youth gun experiment

An ordinary garage full of junk is an unlikely place to go to learn about America's fascination with guns. But that's exactly where ABC News went in constructing an unusual scenario examining the attitudes of college-age young adults who've grown up in the wake of Columbine, Virginia Tech and other incidents of widely publicized gun violence in the past 10 years.

If I Only Had A Gun

The experiment comes after others conducted years earlier by Diane Sawyer, focusing on young children and adolescents. In those settings, we tested kids who had been taught by their parents never to play with a gun.

To underscore the lesson, a police officer lectured them about firearm safety and made sure to remind them that if they ever found a gun, they should leave it alone and tell an adult.

The kids were later put in locations where we had hidden guns. The youngsters had no idea the guns were disabled so they could not fire ... or that we were recording them on hidden cameras. As the kids discovered the firearms, however, the parents were shocked to see the youngsters not only handle the guns but play with them, aim them at one another and, in a few cases, even hide one in their pants pockets, planning to take it with them.

Gun Experiment With College-Age Youths

Considering all that has happened since then -- and that more 18-to-22-year-olds die from accidental shootings than any other age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control -- we decided to revisit the test with college-age kids.

We wondered whether, with all they've seen in the news plus their added maturity, they would be less fascinated with firearms than the younger children we saw earlier.

We placed ads offering a job to clean out a garage at a private home in New Jersey and set up appointments during the course of two days. A total of 24 young people, selected at random from the ad respondents, came to the garage.

When they arrived (some in pairs, some alone), the volunteers met one of our producers who was posing as the homeowner. As we showed them the garage, we made sure they got specific instructions to empty out a chest of drawers where we had hidden a Glock semi-automatic pistol and a Smith and Wesson .357 revolver.

Lateif Dickerson, who runs the New Jersey Firearms Academy, had disabled the firearms. Based upon his years of training young people, he predicted that most of our volunteers would do the right thing: leave the gun and notify the homeowner.

"Most young people who don't have experience with firearms and haven't been trained are pretty afraid of them so they aren't going to touch them," Dickerson said.

Teens React to 'Hidden' Guns

The packing began normally, but as we watched on hidden cameras, it did not take long for the volunteers to find the hidden guns in the drawers. Some were shocked. Some barely noticed.

But only three of them did what Dickerson predicted. The rest either packed the guns up in the boxes with the rest of the debris, or also played with the guns, handling them, staring down the barrel and actually cocking the gun and pulling the trigger.

One boy who picked up a gun said he was scared. Then, right out of the movies, his friend said, "You just put your prints on them," and the boy hurriedly wiped the gun off with his T-shirt.

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