In the past week, we've seen a fatal shooting at Dillard High and five other kids caught with guns at Broward schools, including four elementary students. It's only natural to wonder what in the world - or the Wild, Wild West - is going on.
I could see how our kids might be confused. When it comes to guns, there's a barrage of mixed messages.
You have adults buying and carrying firearms in greater numbers, with some viewing guns as the cornerstone of personal protection. You have the NRA and other gun-advocacy groups winning the battle of the second amendment to the point where courts and politicians consider "gun control" dirty words.
You even had the Legislature passing a law this year allowing Floridians to take guns to their workplaces, so long as they remained locked in their vehicles.
Is it any wonder some kids might think it's OK to bring a gun to school?
"You sure are reaching, aren't you?" said Marion Hammer, a former NRA president and Tallahassee-based gun-rights lobbyist. "You're trying to read something political into this, when common sense tells you it's about a lack of parental responsibility."
To a certain extent, I agree. When you have an 8-year-old bring a pistol to class, as a third-grader did at Walker Elementary in Fort Lauderdale last week, you have to ask, "Where's the adult supervision in that kid's life?"
But this goes beyond lax parenting or negligent guardians.
"Go to any toy store and see how many toy guns there are," said Gordon Weekes, an assistant Broward public defender who works in the juvenile division. "Turn on the television, watch a PG-13 movie, play a video game and see how many images of guns there are. Guns are such a large part of our society, maybe there is an underlying message that guns are OK."
Weekes deals with school gun cases that go through the juvenile court system, and he says there are usually two explanations. Either it's "the novelty factor," where a kid finds a gun and brings it to school to show friends. Or a kid feels bullied or intimidated and brings a gun for protection.
Broward public schools have a zero-tolerance for firearms and projectile guns, meaning kids who bring them to school face suspension and expulsion for up to a year. What happens to violators, such as the three Miramar elementary students who brought BB guns to school on Tuesday?
"We don't expel anybody to the street," said Keith Bromery, spokesman for the Broward School District. "It's not a permanent exile. A parent is given options so their child can get the help they need."
Usually that means placement in an Alternative Center, where behavioral issues are addressed while studies continue. An expelled student can eventually return to his home school, Bromery said.
Hammer said it's up to adults to teach minors that guns are for adults only and to take steps safeguarding them, in the same way parents protect toddlers from power outlets, swimming pools and poisons.
"It's not about accessibility, it's about education," Hammer said. "I grew up in a house with guns. ... We knew we better not touch them or we'd get our behinds kicked."
Hammer said it's a guardian's responsibility to make sure a kid doesn't bring a weapon to school. For the past 12 years, Hammer has raised two grandchildren, 16 and 13.
"I know what's in their backpacks every day," she said.
In our gun-loving society, it's the other kids' backpacks that have so many parents concerned.
Michael Mayo's column runs Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at email@example.com or 954-356-4508.