Kids Have Fatal Attraction to Guns

ByABC News
March 7, 2001, 2:27 PM

Aug. 9 -- Anthony Galella knows that guns kill and accidents happen. If he ever came across a gun, he said, he would "call the cops and tell them."

But when Galella, 15, stumbled across a gun at a YMCA in Yonkers, N.Y., last year disabled and placed there, unbeknownst to him, by ABCNEWS as part of a hidden-camera experiment he found that sounding the alarm and calling for an adult did not come so easy.

"Something in my head was just telling me to touch it and play with it," he explained.

Galella picked up the gun, then put it back not once or twice, but nine times. Instead of calling someone, he ended up stashing the weapon out of sight, to help him resist picking it up again.

An Irresistible Urge

More than 50 teenagers participated in the same PrimeTime experiment and many, including those who had recently received warnings to stay away from guns, responded similarly, agonizing over whether to tell an adult, playing with the gun, and aiming it at one another.

The experiment, which took place last year, suggests what some clinical studies have shown: Teenagers who claim to understand the danger of guns and say they would do the right thing if they found one are in fact so seduced by the sight of a gun that they cannot resist the urge to touch it.

Even warning and educating kids about the danger of guns can have absolutely no effect on their behavior, the ABCNEWS investigation shows. One teenager whose friend was recently killed in a shooting didn't even hesitate before grabbing a gun.

With a fatal accidental shooting taking place nearly every day in the United States, the consequences could have been tragic if the guns these teens discovered had been functional weapons capable of firing a bullet.

A Sense of Invulnerability

Even though the kids had been schooled about the dangers and professed their intent to steer clear of such weapons, something more powerful took hold of them in the presence of an actual gun.

"They have a very strong sense of invulnerability," said Marjorie Hardy, assistant professor of psychology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. This sense of invulnerability, so common in teenage boys, translates into recklessness, she said.