The right-wing Virginia government led by Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has steadily been pushing the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) agenda, recently passing a law allowing “concealed carry permit holders to bring loaded guns” into bars. Now, McDonnell is bringing the NRA into elementary school classrooms to tell children to be careful around this proliferation of guns.
Earlier this year, the Virginia legislature passed a bill allowing public schools to “offer gun-safety education to students in kindergarten through fifth grade.” Included in the legislation was a provision directing these gun safety programs to use materials from the National Crime Prevention Center as well as the NRA:
The curriculum guidelines shall incorporate, among other principles of firearm safety, accident prevention and the rules upon which the Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program offered by the National Rifle Association or the program of the National Crime Prevention Center is based.
There is no National Crime Prevention Center. However, there is a National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) — the group behind McGruff the Crime Dog. But when McDonnell signed the legislation, he didn’t insert the NCPC’s name. Instead he offered this change:
Strike or the program of the National Crime Prevention Center.
With this simple move, McDonnell ensured that the NRA has a monopoly on elementary school classrooms. A McDonnell spokesperson “said that rather than fixing the name, the governor deleted it because the council doesn’t have a current stand-alone gun-safety program.” Lori Hass, a board member for the Virginia Center for Public Safety, a nonprofit committed to reducing gun violence, said McDonnell was “playing a game of semantics to force a lobby and their interests into the curriculum, into what they would offer local school boards.”
The NRA’s Eddie Eagle Safety Program has been around since 1988, and gives children this advice if they come upon a gun: “STOP! Don’t Touch. Leave the Area. Tell an Adult.” However, this program has been heavily criticized for being “insufficient.” As Paul Helmke, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, writes:
In fact, a study published in 2004 by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that children could memorize Eddie’s simple advice about avoiding guns, but that advice went unheeded when children were put in real-life scenarios and asked to role-play a response. Indeed, not a single child out of 11 in the Eddie Eagle program study “used the skills in a real-life situation.” The authors noted, “Studies have found that when children find guns, they often play with them,” and concluded: “Existing programs are insufficient for teaching gun-safety skills to children.”
Another study published in the late 1990s by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) noted that Eddie Eagle was like “Joe Camel with feathers,” pointing out that: “The primary goal of the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle program is not to safeguard children, but to protect the interests of the NRA and the firearms industry by making guns more acceptable to children and youth… The hoped-for result is new customers for the industry and new members for the NRA.”
ThinkProgress recently attended the annual NRA convention, where we found that NRA members often disapproved of the extreme agenda pushed by the organization’s leadership, including the campaign to bring guns into bars and allow people on the terrorist watch list to have firearms.
A 2008 news report by WOAI NBC-4 in San Antonio, TX found that after a group of children went through the Eddie Eagle Gun Safety program, they nevertheless shortly thereafter picked up toy guns and played with them; one boy even “walked up to another child and pointed it at the child’s face.”