Simple, but by no means simplistic, "5 American Handguns" explores an all-too-common American tragedy: the destructive swath of guns in the wrong hands. Its aim is true; the results are high-caliber.

Simple, but by no means simplistic, “5 American Handguns” explores an all-too-common American tragedy: the destructive swath of guns in the wrong hands. Its aim is true; the results are high-caliber.

Some facts:

In more than one-third of the American homes with both guns and children, the guns are kept unlocked.

Every eight hours, an American child kills himself with a handgun.

A child is five times more likely to kill himself if there’s a gun in the house to abet the process.

A gun in the house is 43 times more likely to kill friends or family than an intruder.

These are just a few of the staggering statistics that are dispensed throughout this powerful hour from the documentary team of Vince DiPersio and William Guttentag. If all that “5 American Handguns” accomplished were putting these figures into the overcooked stew of public awareness, it would have served its purpose. But “5 American Handguns” does much more. The results are haunting.

It begins with a stark, seemingly harmless image — five guns mounted on a display rack. Each, viewers soon learn, has a specific story to tell.

By the time the show is finished, we have gotten to know these particular weapons and the devastation they’ve wrought. We have gotten to know their victims — and their families, who provide poignant, and guilt-ridden, testimony to the cavalier attitude with which guns are kept. They also ask — too late in their own cases — some important questions about the lack of gun-regulation and control in this country.

These are sad stories — cautionary stories — with tragic consequences. Filled with “what ifs” and “if I’d onlys,” they are pointedly armed with emotional firepower: a 3-year-old shoots his 2-year-old friend in Montana; a 14 -year-old shoots himself in Rhode Island; a 14-year-old steals a car and kills a cop in Idaho (the gun “made me feel like I was in control,” the boy admits in a particularly effective interview, “being the one with the switch — to take somebody’s life or let him keep it”); a 14-year-old in upstate New York accidentally kills his friend with his father’s automatic; a 15-year-old in Boston who dreamed of being the first black president is killed by gang fire.

What kind of society allows those so young proximity and access to something so deadly? That’s the ultimate question “5 Handguns” poses. The answer, unfortunately, blows you away.

America Undercover 5 American Handguns -- 5 American Kids

(Sun. (19), 10-11 p.m., HBO)


Filmed by HBO. Producers, directors, writers, Vince DiPersio, William Guttentag.


Camera, Alex Zakrzewski; editor, Douglas Cheek; sound, Albee Gordon; music, Philip Marshall.


Narrator: Beau Bridges.

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