In the Aliso-Pico housing project near downtown Los Angeles, 11-year-old Frankie Mugia and his sister Crystal, 6, have had to sleep on the floor of their second-story bedroom to avoid bullets. Their window has been shot out by gunfire.
How often do you hear gunshots?
"Every day," Frankie says.
How often do you see guns?
If children are the future, then firearms are altering the future of Los Angeles County.
Twenty years ago, coroner's records show, one in 10 fatal shootings involved children or teen-agers as victims. Today, the ratio is more than one in four.
Five years ago, the district attorney's office prosecuted 945 youths for carrying firearms. By last year, the number had more than doubled.
And the Los Angeles Times Poll recently found that one in five households with children in Los Angeles County has been victimized by gun-related crime during the last two years.
Today, triggermen in gang shootings often are not yet old enough to shave. Some schools have had to do away with book lockers because students use them to stash pistols and other contraband. Inner-city children who cannot tell one bird's song from another can often distinguish the caliber and proximity of a gun by the crack its report.
Doctors believe there may be tens of thousands of children in Los Angeles County whose psychiatric health and emotional growth are being disrupted by constant exposure to violence, especially gunfire.
"Look at the level of meanness and cruelty that these children are experiencing out there--and yet we expect them to grow up and be Jack and Jill," said Dr. Range Hutson, director of emergency admitting at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.
"We are creating a generation of people who just don't care about what it is they do to each other."
Some contend that tightening control of gun and ammunition sales is the answer.
Others argue that more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens would help deter criminals, thus making the streets safer for both children and adults. According to the Times Poll, 9% of firearms owners in Southern California say they have used their guns to thwart burglaries, car thefts or other crimes. Many blame leniency in the courts and a decline in family discipline for the proliferation of gun-related violence. Today's juvenile delinquent with a gun, they say, is tomorrow's armed robber or killer.
Still others contend that the carnage can only increase as long as residents of the county's most upscale and influential areas, where shootings are a relative rarity, remain apathetic.
"Nobody (cares) so long as it stops in the barrio and the ghetto," said Deputy Probation Officer James J. Galipeau. "Until the white middle class sees the real threat is to them and their children, nothing's going to get done."
The toll among children, meanwhile, continues to mount.
A review of medical records published in 1988 by doctors at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, which receives a high portion of medical emergencies in central Los Angeles, found that the number of children admitted to the center with gunshot wounds began to grow dramatically in 1980.
Between 1974 and 1980, no child under the age of 10 was hospitalized there for gunshot wounds, the study found. By 1987, however, doctors at the center had treated and admitted at least 34 children for gunshot wounds, all 9 or younger.
Ten had been shot unintentionally by other children or had accidentally shot themselves; 11 were hit by stray bullets fired by gang members or in retaliation for gang-related activities of their older siblings; 10 were inadvertently shot with guns that were aimed at other relatives during family disputes; two were shot during robberies, and one was hit by sniper fire.
Three of the 34 children died of their wounds; three others suffered brain damage requiring them to be institutionalized; one suffers from recurrent bowel obstructions; two underwent colostomies; one lost an eye; two lost parts of a hand, and another suffers from radical nerve damage to the wrist.
"Childhood gunshot wounds," the study concluded, "have become a major urban medical problem."
If anything, the situation in Los Angeles has worsened in recent years.
In the 1970-71 fiscal year, four children 9 or younger were murdered with guns in Los Angeles County, coroner's records show. Last year, there were 10, plus two who were accidentally shot to death. Since April, gunshots have killed three children, the youngest 18 months old.
At Childrens Hospital near Hollywood, 31 children age 14 or younger were treated for gunshot wounds in 1991, compared to 21 the year before.
"Children used to be off-limits to criminals . . . and that's no longer true," said Dr. Nancy Schonfeld, director of emergency services at Childrens Hospital. "It's really sick."
One evening last July, Bianca Duran, 10, her two younger brothers and their seamstress mother, Enriqueta, were caught in a gang cross-fire while playing in San Fernando's Las Palmas Park.