by Karen Mehall Phillips, Director of Communications, NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum - Friday, July 28, 2023
American hunters and shooters all started out the same way. We were taught the fundamentals of gun safety and that the right to keep and bear arms comes with great responsibility. Thank you, NRA, for always leading the way in the safety, education and training arena for all who choose to exercise their Second Amendment rights.
But long before we were old enough for our dads or other family members to take us hunting, we learned first things first: that guns were not toys and that we were never to touch a gun if we came across one in an unattended situation. And we didn’t. But with guns present in as many as 50 percent of all U.S. households, what about children who did not grow up in a gun safety environment? How could they learn to be safe if they found a gun, maybe while playing at a neighbor’s home or in the park? In 1988, the NRA rolled out the national solution in the form of the Eddie Eagle GunSafe program.
Developed by a task force of educators, school administrators, curriculum specialists, urban housing safety officials, clinical psychologists, law enforcement officials and NRA firearm safety experts, the Eddie Eagle GunSafe program is a gun accident prevention program offered free of charge to help parents, law enforcement, community groups and educators navigate a topic vital to child safety. Spearheaded by past NRA president Marion Hammer in 1988, the program teaches pre-K through fourth graders an easy, four-step message on what to do if they come across a gun: “Stop. Don’t touch. Run away. Tell a grownup.” Complete with an eight-minute video, it teaches nothing about guns and makes no value judgments as to whether they are good or bad as Eddie Eagle and his Wing Team focus on preventing accidents by teaching children that guns are not toys.
In organizing Eddie Eagle media tours and school assembly presentations in the 1990s, I hit the road alongside Hammer on a regular basis. Interestingly, one of the comments we heard most often was one of surprise over the fact program materials did not feature the NRA name or logo. “Why isn’t the NRA taking credit for Eddie Eagle’s life-saving message or using the program to advance its political agenda?” was a common question. The answer: Saving children’s lives is not a political move—and no one could pick apart a national program created for the sole purpose of keeping children safe. I nominated Hammer for a prestigious National Safety Council (NSC) award in recognition of her exemplary efforts and success, which earned her the NSC Award for Outstanding Community Service. Today the Eddie Eagle program has reached more than 30 million school children in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Thank you, NRA and Marion Hammer, for this tremendous and ongoing investment in our children’s future.
While articles promoting gun accident prevention are always timely, the reason for today’s article is to share that the Eddie Eagle GunSafe program was almost recognized by the media and academics last week—almost.
As tracked by the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), CNN ran a story on July 17 titled, “A One Minute Video Reduced Kids’ Unsafe Behavior around Guns, Study Finds.” It hyped an article published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics titled, “Effect of a Gun Safety Video on Children’s Behavior around Real Guns.” It covered a recent JAMA study conducted by Ohio State University (OSU) researchers in which 226 kids ages 8 to 12 took part in a random control trial as part of a child gun safety study. The kids were sorted into two groups with one watching a one-minute gun safety video featuring OSU Police Chief Kimberly Spears-McNatt and the other watching a one-minute video on car safety.
“The children who viewed a gun safety video at home and then found a real gun hidden in a laboratory were more cautious than children in a control group,” the study reported. In addition, it noted, “Children who had previously taken a gun safety course, [and] had guns in the home … were less likely to engage in unsafe behavior around real guns.”
While commonly associated with liberal media bias, including toward gun rights, by voices across the political spectrum, CNN’s report focused only on the study and the message from Spears-McNatt, who said, “Guns are not toys and are not to be played with. If a child finds a real gun, they should not pick it up or move it. Instead, find an adult and tell them where it is located.”
This message is nothing new for NRA members. It mirrors that of the NRA’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program, which again teaches children who find an unattended gun to: “Stop. Don’t Touch. Run Away. Tell A Grown-up.” While CNN and the OSU researchers did not mention Eddie Eagle while commending the JAMA study for underscoring child gun safety, sounding a life-saving message remains the NRA’s goal.
“This is why NRA members have been investing in the Eddie Eagle program and its simple safety message for 35 years,” said Joseph P. DeBergalis Jr., Executive Eirector of NRA General Operations, who oversees the NRA’s many safety, education and training programs. “The NRA believes that talking with children about gun safety and accident prevention should never be a political issue. The program was created to help pre-K through fourth graders understand what to do if they ever find a gun in a real-life scenario. Since 1988, Eddie Eagle has reached over 33 million students—undoubtedly preventing accidents and saving lives.”
That said, as noted by Cam Edwards, editor of bearing arms.com, who reported on the JAMA article on July 18, the fact that both CNN and OSU researchers avoided mentioning the NRA’s program makes one wonder if it was done to sidestep propping up the NRA. “I don’t know why the researchers decided to use the chief instead of Eddie Eagle, though I do have my suspicions that they didn’t want to do anything that could possibly portray the NRA in a positive light, but regardless of their reasoning, the results were impressive.”
For more on the NRA child safety front, in addition to NRA General Operations, NRA-ILA also uses its resources to promote Eddie Eagle’s message. In April, both houses of the Kansas legislature passed legislation to establish grade-appropriate curricula guidelines to teach gun safety to students of all ages. According to NRA-ILA, “The bill provided that the curriculum for kindergarten through fifth grade ‘shall be based on the Eddie Eagle GunSafe program.’ Unfortunately, this important safety bill was vetoed by Gov. Laura Kelly (D).”
However, for some encouraging news, NRA-ILA says that even some of the NRA’s most staunch critics understand and appreciate Eddie Eagle’s lifesaving message. In 2016, the New York Times reported that Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said, “Children should be taught to leave the area immediately, not touch the firearm, tell an adult right away and call a parent.” In 2015, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) tweeted, “I don’t agree w/ the @NRA on some big issues, but they deserve a lot of credit for teaching kids about gun safety. http://eddieeagle.com.”
Fortunately, saving children’s lives is an issue every American can agree on and support. Thank you, NRA, for your national leadership in the child gun safety arena. For more information on the Eddie Eagle GunSafe program, please visit eddieeagle.nra.org.
About the Author
Karen Mehall Phillips is director of communications for the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum (HLF) and senior editor of American Hunter. She has packed her rifle and bow across 29 states, Canada, Italy, Finland, Germany, Spain, New Zealand, Greenland, Turkey and Africa. Since the launch of the NRA HLF website in 2016, she has worked to address America’s culture war on hunting, continuing to promote hunting’s many benefits to wildlife conservation while calling out animal rights extremists’ blatant attempts to tout emotion and misinformation over scientific facts. An NRA Endowment member, she worked in the NRA public relations arena prior to joining NRA Publications in 1998 and is the founding editor of two NRA official journals: America's 1st Freedom and Woman's Outlook.
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