When Kids Can Get Guns, Where Is Safe?

By Marc Fisher
Thursday, January 26, 2006

The architecture of daily life rests on some hard facts and some flimsy foundations. The job is where it is. Home is where you can afford. The kids go to school an hour after you have to be on the highway. So you park the kids at the day care before school opens and trust that all will be well. Because it has to be for everything else to work.

Then some 8-year-old shoots a 7-year-old at the day care.

The next morning, the moms stand around in the elementary school parking lot in Germantown doing the only thing they can do at such a moment: They worry. What's their alternative? They have to work. They can't keep the kids locked up at home, much as they might like to.

At Northlake, the apartment complex that is home to John Linwood Hall -- father of the accused shooter, now arrested and charged with giving a minor access to a firearm and contributing to the delinquency of a minor -- rents start at $910 a month, balcony fences are falling apart, and few people write their name on the nameplate on their front door.

At the playground there, a couple of mothers talk about their plan to get out, find some place safer than Germantown. Where? Farther out. Frederick maybe, Howard County maybe.

And then they talk about guns.

About one in three Americans owns a firearm of some sort; take hunters out of the equation and the number of owners plummets. Only about 15 percent of Americans own handguns, according to a Justice Department-sponsored study.

The rest of us are condemned at the least to listen to the eternal, sanctimonious debate over what to do about guns. Too often, in too many places, guns force us to alter how we construct our lives: where we will walk, where we will live, where we allow our children to go.

An 8-year-old boy boasts that he can get his hands on a gun. Then, as The Post's Ernesto LondoƱo reports today, prosecutors say the dad showed the child how to cock a weapon. The next morning, the boy shows up at day care with a .38-caliber Taurus revolver that belongs to his father, who turns out to be a felon who should never have had a gun in the first place.

Fluke? Bizarre accident? Or reason to restructure your life?

"This feeds the fear people have of just about everyone else," says Mark Tindle, pastor of Seneca Creek Community Church in Germantown. "It ratchets up the guilt about 'what if I stayed home with the kids?' It's a self-perpetuating cycle: We trust the people we know, but I don't know my neighbors, so I can't trust them, so I don't get to know them.

"Everything people need in life is in their house -- home theaters, six-foot privacy fences, ordering groceries and movies online," Tindle says. "Between fear and convenience, we isolate ourselves further and further."

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