Saturday, September 16, 2000


Kids doodle danger

        What was he, if not everything we could want a little boy to be? Big dark eyes, shining hair, a bright striped T-shirt. It would be no overstatement to call him an all-American kid.

        And so, as he huddled over his notebook, trying to shield something he was drawing, I expected to see an airplane, a football player — who knows, maybe a heart with his best girl's name? His teacher pulled his arm away. There, in chilling detail, was a handgun.

        “They used to draw houses or kittens or flowers, now they draw guns,” she said in a voice filled with sadness. “Guns on their desks, their notebooks, their hands. They scribble guns in the margins of their tests.”

        It was third grade.

        Something awful has happened in the quiet margins of children's lives and test papers. Something twisted in how they think of guns.

        Most of us are surprised that they think of them at all. We did not grow up drawing guns, mostly because we did not see all that much of them. Now a gun, for many children, is not an unfamiliar object.

        In some homes, a gun is what Daddy gets when he hears a noise in the basement. Parents kid themselves when they think their children do not have at least a very good idea where he gets the gun. Children are famous for their uncanny ability to locate hidden objects. It used to be Christmas presents. Now it is weapons.

        In other homes, however, a gun is simply part of the furnishings. Guns can be collectibles. They can be companions. They can, sadly, be status.

        And then, of course, there is the culture of guns that goes on outside the home.

        On Monday, the Federal Trade Commission released a report saying that the entertainment industry not only fails to protect children from violent movies, music and videos, but clearly markets it to them.

        And we pretend to be shocked when another child is dead, the victim of a shooting.

        Certainly, long gone is the myth that gun violence happens only to certain kinds of children from certain kinds of home. School shooters and children who kill playmates and family members have often come from privileged, intact families.

        And yet it is also true that violence is compounded in some children's lives. There are classrooms across this city where, teachers say, almost every child has had a family member or close friend affected by violence.

        There are children who go home alone after school, who have little adult attention, and who are terribly vulnerable to violent entertainment, and to weapons in the home.

        And there are children so ignored, so undervalued that the yearning to be someone special leads some to pick up a saxophone or basketball, but others to pick up a gun.

        The availability of weapons and controls on violent entertainment are both hotly debated issues. One side shouts for control, the other for autonomy and freedom.

        But let us not forget there are other sorts of freedom.

        The freedom to grow up drawing houses and suns instead of weapons.

        The freedom to grow up never losing someone you love to violence.

        The freedom to grow up unafraid.

        The freedom to grow up at all.

Krista Ramsey's column appears on Saturdays. Write her at the Enquirer, 312 Elm St. Cincinnati 45202, or