A spate of holiday shootings in which teen-agers were involved both as victims and as perpetrators underscores the current epidemic of handgun violence and the deadly trade in weapons that fuels it. In one incident, a young Crofton engineer and father of two was shot to death in the parking lot behind his office, allegedly by two youths ages 15 and 16. In another, a 19-year-old was fatally wounded Monday during a running gun battle between the occupants of three cars.
The causes of this alarming breakdown of public order are complex and as varied as the individuals who contribute to it. But one thing is certain: The carnage is made possible and is sustained primarily by the easy availability of handguns to ever younger potential offenders. The proliferation of such weapons may be the biggest single factor in the rise in killings that drove urban homicide rates to near record levels last year.
Where do teen-agers get guns? Law enforcement experts say the most common source is the home, where a gun purchased by a parent or older relative can easily wind up in the hands of an irresponsible youth. Often the weapon is taken from the house without the knowledge of its owner. Teen-agers also purchase weapons illegally on the street, typically guns that either have been stolen during burglaries or that have been traded privately so many times that they are virtually untraceable. In some areas, teen-agers can even "rent" a gun from criminal brokers for a nominal fee.