WASHINGTON — Eighteen-year-old Detra J. of the District of Columbia, saying "everyone knows how to get a gun if they want one," told a House panel Thursday that she knows children as young as 12 who arm themselves because they are involved in drug trafficking.
"If they hustle for a person--he's a runner or a hit man--he's getting a gun to carry out the orders the man has given him," Detra, whose last name was not revealed, told the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families.
Eight people she knows have been shot to death, she said, adding: "Half had guns and were in a gunfight, and half of them were innocent bystanders."
Seek Financial Rewards
But the deaths do not keep others from getting involved in the drug trade, she said. "Most of them, after their friends die, they get deeper into it," because of the financial rewards, she said.
"They get involved because they want fast money, to buy cars, jewelry and radios. They don't get (legitimate) jobs because the pay is too low," said Detra, who works in a local Recreation Department program.
She said many ideas floated by lawmakers to keep young people from obtaining guns will not work, including making it more difficult to buy weapons legally. The District of Columbia has one of the toughest gun control laws in the country, yet young people have no trouble getting them illegally, she said.
Holding parents liable for their children's use of weapons will fail because, she said, "there's not too many youth today who talk to their parents. . . . It's not a family bond anymore" and parents do not have control over their drug-dealing children.
Two experts who testified differed on the seriousness of gun-related violence.
Pediatrician Katherine K. Christoffel of Chicago, representing the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that "10 American children ages 18 and under are killed every day in handgun suicides, homicides and accidents. . . . In 1987, gun injuries were the fourth-leading cause of unintentional-injury death for children ages 14 and under."
Gary Kleck, an associate professor of criminology at Florida State University in Tallahassee, said that accidental shootings of innocent bystanders "are extremely rare," involvement of guns in youth suicide has been decreasing since 1979, except for a slight upturn in 1984 and 1985, and fatal gun accidents have been declining for 20 years.