Kids grow up quickly: one day they’re shooting hoops in the driveway, the next they’re squeezing off rounds at neighborhood houses. TIME looked into the proliferation of guns among American youth, exploring why a high school student would want — or even need — a gun. The cover story follows teenagers from Omaha, Neb. as they spend their savings on the weapons:
Sometimes the guns are for protection, a youngster’s seemingly prudent response to the small-arms race among his peers. But often, guns and gunfights are just a defense against the inexplicable despair that torments so many American teenagers. While the basic destructive impulses of rebellious young men remain unchanged, the methods of rebellion are now far more dangerous. Today’s miscreants know that a pistol says much more than long hair or a pierced nose ever could.