By Blaine Smith, Associate Editor
Four of the 25 million youngsters who have learned Eddie Eagle’s simple, effective lesson—“If you see a gun: Stop! Don’t Touch. Leave the Area. Tell an Adult.”—are siblings Brayden, Xavier and Alexandra Logan and Collin Huston, grade-schoolers in Jackson, Mich.
And they have no doubt Eddie Eagle saved their lives.
Last May, the quartet was playing hide-and-seek when Collin dashed into a vacant shed to hide and tripped over a duffel bag. He called the others over and together they opened the bag. Inside was a pistol that, it turns out, was loaded.
Applying the Eddie Eagle mantra that they had learned when the program was taught at their school, the four backed away and ran to tell an adult—in this case their father—who in turn called police.
“We didn’t touch it,” Xavier told the Jackson Citizen Patriot.
“If we would have played with it, one of us could have gotten shot,” Alexandra noted.
It’s because the message is so simple that it is so effective. It’s a catchy, lifesaving jingle that I heard my own young daughter sing days after my wife and I watched the Eddie Eagle video with her.
More than 25 million children throughout all 50 states have now benefited from this NRA program, and it shows no signs of stopping.
Past NRA President Marion Hammer was instrumental in starting the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program 24 years ago, and with the help of educators, law enforcement officials, child psychologists and gun experts, program mascot Eddie Eagle’s gun-safety message was born.
The singsong “stop! Don’t Touch …” chant is meant to stick with children. Other than that, no further message is intended. Children are told neither that guns are good nor bad. Eddie Eagle himself is never seen with a gun. The NRA is never mentioned in the curriculum and at no time are children encouraged to become gun owners or NRA members.
The sole message to children is to never touch a gun while unsupervised.
According to Eric Lipp, Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program manager, The NRA Foundation provides opportunities for grant funding, making it possible for schools, law enforcement agencies, hospitals, daycare centers and libraries to receive program materials free of charge.
Anyone may teach the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program, Lipp said, and NRA membership is not required. The Eddie Eagle program may be readily incorporated into existing school curriculum, taught in a one- to five-day format and used to reach all levels or simply one or two grades.
The program also uses a collection of 330 Eddie Eagle mascot costumes available to eligible program volunteers. The larger-than-life costumes help instructors ensure their young students are fully engaged in the lessons and make for an unforgettable experience for the children. Never a recruitment tool for the NRA, the Eddie Eagle mascots aren’t allowed anywhere guns are present, Lipp noted.
Various anti-gun groups from time to time have manufactured outrage over the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program. In 1997, the Violence Policy Center (VPC) likened Eddie Eagle to Joe Camel, insinuating the program was essentially a stealth marketing ploy to hook children on firearms early. And as late as 2010, then-Brady Campaign head Paul Helmke dedicated a blog post to denigrating the Eddie Eagle program, resurrecting the VPC’s hit piece while chiding the NRA program because it “places the burden on children to stay away from guns,” when the key to eliminating firearm accidents—to Helmke, at least—is the passage of “laws requiring adults to safely store their firearms out of the reach of children.”
Of course, such laws would have had little effect in the case of the loaded pistol found by the Michigan children. Thank goodness, however, the children had learned what to do should they happen upon a firearm in an unsupervised situation.
And the case of the Michigan children isn’t an isolated event, but a scenario that Eddie Eagle Program staff hear repeated again and again: Parents thanking them for providing their children with a lesson that would later be put to use when those children happened upon a firearm while unsupervised.
Besides, such insipid muckraking by a couple of anti-gunners doesn’t diminish the praise, support and results that the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program has earned.
While rates of gun ownership in the United States have increased steadily, with one or more firearms found in half of all American households today, fatal firearm accidents among Pre-k to third-grade children have decreased almost 80 percent since the nationwide launch of the Eddie Eagle program.
Much credit for such a precipitous drop-off in accidental firearm fatalities among children is due to gun accident prevention programs such as Eddie Eagle, and with more than 26,000 schoolteachers, law enforcement officers and civic groups having taught the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program since its inception, there’s no doubt NRA’s gun-safety program is owed a significant share of the credit for saving lives.
The Journal of Emergency Nursing Online agreed, naming Eddie Eagle the best of more than 80 gun safety programs the editors evaluated in 2001.
In 1993 the Community Service Division of the National Safety Council awarded Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program creator Hammer its Citation for Outstanding Service, and in 1996 the Youth Activities Division of the National Safety Council awarded its Youth Safety Award to the Eddie Eagle Program for its efforts to “promote safety and health, save lives, lessen injury and reduce economic loss.”
The National Sheriffs’ Association, The American Legion, the Police Athletic League, the Association of American Educators and many others have all formally recognized the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program’s efforts. In 26 states, governors have signed resolutions recommending the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program be used in classrooms, while legislatures in 25 states have passed resolutions recommending the use of Eddie Eagle to teach gun safety in each states’ respective school system.
But honors, awards and resolutions aside, the sole mission of the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program is to protect the lives of children. And the greatest honor for those involved in the program at NRA is to hear of the lives their work has potentially saved.
In December 2011, when the 25 million mark was officially confirmed, it was truly a time of excitement among the program’s staff, Lipp said. Reaching such a monumental milestone has only reinforced the team’s commitment to helping save lives.
“Our goal hasn’t changed since day one,” he said. “We want to reach every child in the United States with our important message and try to prevent firearm accidents.”
To them, we say congratulations and thank you. And here’s to the next 25 million.
For more information on the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program, visit www.nrahq.org/safety/eddie.
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