Why are children, especially boys, drawn to guns?
Many parents avoid buying toy guns, do not expose their babies to violent TV shows or games, and yet, the youngsters want squirt guns, Nerf guns, or will fashion substitutes.
More than one baby has bitten a piece of toast into the shape of a pistol, horrifying and puzzling his parents.
While babies seem to be born with an innate fear of heights, darkness, snakes, and a few other things, gun lust is unlikely to be genetic. Aggression may be in our genes, but not the preference for a particular weapon.
Children must acquire a knowledge of guns from their environment. Television shows have greatly reduced explicit gun violence. Twenty or thirty years ago the Lone Ranger, Eliot Ness, Ben Cartwright and other characters routinely shot and killed people. The victims, not displaying any injury or blood, instantly dropped dead.
How does a child shielded from CSI, Grand Theft Auto, Metal Gear Solid, Mortal Kombat, and restricted to family-friendly Disney movies, learn about guns?
Possibly because of what's happening in the world.
Most children won't go near a newspaper, but the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan leak in through discussion, and television news. Columbine and other notorious school shootings are over-covered by 24-hour news channels, and are apt to be overheard.
Perhaps the knowledge comes through their friends: "I'll be Osama bin Laden and you be the 10th Mountain Division. I'll take the AK-47 and you get the M-16."
Maybe a gun, even a toy one, gives children a feeling of safety in a post 9/11 world with a scary former vice-president predicting Armageddon, flag-draped coffins being unloaded from Air Force cargo planes, neighbors being shot, and stray rounds crashing through bedroom walls.
Can you really blame a kid for wanting to protect him or herself, even symbolically?