But another boy wasn't scared at all. He picked up one gun, then the other. He held them and examined them closely, even pointing them toward his face. Then his cell phone rang. But he hardly missed a beat, cutting off the call to keep playing. Later, he admitted he was fascinated.
"I did a double take," he said. "I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. I took them out and played with them a little bit. It was a cool gun, I've never seen guns like this before."
When we asked if it was a mistake, he admitted it might have been: "Maybe I wasn't so smart about it, but nothing bad happened. It wasn't loaded so we will never know."
But as a 2008 case in Wisconsin illustrates, that kind of assumption can lead to tragedy. Evan Tolsma, 19, who said he had no interest in guns or hunting, shot and killed his best friend. It happened when Tolsma and the friend went to the home of another boy who was interested in guns.
That boy's father had many firearms out in the open around the house, including one he had recently purchased, an AK-47. The boy was excited to show the others the AK-47. The boys all took turns holding it plus the other various guns and, at one point, with Tolsma holding the AK-47, he pulled the trigger. He had no idea it was loaded. His friend was hit in the head and died immediately.
Tolsma, who was charged with homicide by negligent handling of a dangerous weapon, appeared to have been influenced by peer pressure. So, in our garage experiment, we sent another producer in to pose as someone else who answered the ad. He acted as foolishly as possible around the guns and we wanted to see if others would follow suit.
A pair of boys told him how stupid he was.
One said, "I wouldn't play with it, dude. ... I've taken a gun safety class and you're not supposed to do that."
But with others, he was much more influential. One boy who was loading the van on his own had been pretty careful with the guns when he discovered them by himself. But when the producer started asking a lot of questions about the guns, the boy not only stared down the barrel but also went to get a flashlight for a better look. He admitted later he would not have done that without the other person. He admitted it was a mistake because, "if you've got a gun, it's dangerous."
Another boy who handled the guns on his own took it to another level once the producer got involved.
They decided to load the gun with the loose ammunition in the drawer, even though they had no idea they were blanks. Then, under the influence of the producer, he eventually pulled the trigger numerous times. He told us afterward, "I probably wouldn't have done anything with it, but given the peer pressure ... I was scared to do it first, I didn't want to do it, but he was doing it so I had to."
"Just the fact that he was having fun with it," he said. "I just figured it'd be fun to play with."