Teens question each side of gun debate

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WASHINGTON (AP) High-schoolers brought personal experience and tough questions to a debate Tuesday on how to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

Some 200 17-year-olds asked detailed questions about safety locks, state versus federal legislation, and the dangers of unregulated gun show purchases. Their targets: John Frazer, lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, and Michael Beard, spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Handgun Violence.

Dakota Bixler said the debate was especially relevant in her town of Pierre, S.D., nicknamed ''the U.S. suicide capital'' for a proliferation of teen suicides several years ago.

''America has a long way to go when it comes to guns,'' she said.

School violence also cropped up frequently in questions; this month, two students were killed and 18 wounded in two shootings in the San Diego area.

Beard told the students that 10 Americans age 15 or under die from gunfire each day, and that the key to preventing their deaths is tougher legislation. Frazer said guns are necessary for self-defense and that current laws, if adequately enforced, would roll back gun-related homicides.

Frazer said the NRA opposes safety locks legislation, because it's impossible to mandate a uniform lock for all guns. Beard said federal regulation is necessary to tie up myriad loopholes in state laws; Frazer preferred keeping legislation at the state and local level. Beard said unregulated sales at gun shows pose a threat; Frazer said only 2 percent of guns sold at such shows end up in criminal hands.

Frazer drew criticism from NRA supporters as well as gun-control activists for opposing any kind of controls.

One repeated question: If driver's education is mandatory, why not gun-handling classes? Frazer said voluntary gun-safety classes, such as those offered by the NRA, produce better results.

Andrew Salisbury of Easton, Mass., said Frazer's responses disappointed him, especially regarding NRA opposition to California laws that hold parents accountable for their children's misuse of household firearms.

''I grew up around guns, my grandfather is a retired policeman, and I don't want to see too many more regulations,'' said Salisbury, who hopes to qualify for a hunting license in four years when he turns 21. ''But people who are irresponsible should be held accountable.''

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