Joe Camel with Feathers
How the NRA with Gun and Tobacco Industry Dollars Uses its Eddie Eagle Program to Market Guns to Kids
Section Three: "The Safest Thing is to Not Keep a Gun at Home"Contrary to the claims of the National Rifle Association, public health research suggests that "gun safety" programs have little effect in reducing firearms death and injury. The American Academy of Pediatricsq Committee on Injury and Poison Prevention has concluded:
Firearm safety programs directed at children are being promoted actively by some groups in some locales. There is no evidence that these programs are effective in reducing either gun handling or gun injuries. This may be because developmental characteristics of children and adolescents (e.g. impulsivity, poor judgment, active imagination) cannot be addressed effectively by such programs.In an educational brochure for parents, "Keep Your Family Safe From Firearm Injury," the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that "[b]ecause even the most well-behaved children are curious by nature and will eagerly explore their environment, the safest thing is to not keep a gun at home."
As with other behavior education approaches to safety, gun safety education programs have been met with skepticism. In the October 1994 issue of Pediatrics, public health researchers Judith Cohen Dolins, MPH and Katherine Kaufer Christoffel, MD, MPH, noted:
Educational programs for both gun owners and children are supported by some gun proponents; they claim that such programs can reduce dangerous access, make children safe from the dangers of guns, and reduce unintentional injuries....Data showing that this strategy is effective are scanty, however. Although owner education may inform adults about proper handgun storage, it cannot guarantee the habitual behavior needed to keep a handgun out of reach of children. There is no evidence that safety lessons are retained by children at the critical times when they confront a loaded weapon. Indeed, the combination of the high stakes involved, death or disability, and the propensity of children to forget rules while playing or upset makes this a dubious approach at best. Because children cannot be made `gun safe,' their environments must be made safe by removing the most dangerous guns.
Educators critical of the Eddie Eagle program note that it shows a lack of knowledge of how children learn to make complex decisions. As Sue Bredekamp, director of professional development for the National Association for the Education of Young Children and an expert in early childhood education, told the Herald-Tribune in December 1988, "To pretend even for one minute that it is OK for an adult to leave a gun around and that a child can be taught to come get you is just reprehensible." In addition, as illustrated by the incidents on the opposite page, anecdotal evidence reveals that gun "safety" programs—for adults or children—do not ensure safe gun handling. In unintentional shootings involving children who have taken gun safety courses, the shooters are often showing off firearms to friends—in some cases, demonstrating what they learned in safety classes.
Empirical research supports this theory. An August 1996 study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics studied preschool children's behavior before and after a firearms safety intervention program. Results from the study indicated that the intervention was ineffective in modifying the behavior of the children. The researchers concluded:
Many parents of young children believe that merely telling their children to stay away from guns is sufficient to prevent gun injury. However, the present study demonstrated that this strategy is not sufficient, even when warnings are backed up by a law enforcement officer....Although children with accessibility to firearms were better able to tell the difference between real and toy guns, this knowledge did not inhibit them from playing with real guns. Children whose parents reported gun ownership but stated that their children were unaware of this fact were significantly more likely to report that they did indeed know where their parent's gun was and that it was accessible....In fact, in the present study, 19% of children whose parents owned a firearm had played with the gun without their parents' knowledge, a factor that contributed to both gun play and aggressive behavior with their peers. This finding in particular is alarming and suggests that parents' belief about their children's naivete is faulty. Apparently, far more children are playing dangerously with firearms than their parents and the general public realizes. Only when the gun fires accidentally do we hear about it.23And, since gun safety courses like the NRA's Eddie Eagle never address the consequences of mishandling firearms, it is not uncommon for children who have taken such courses to be shocked when faced with the physical trauma of a gunshot wound.
In March 1997 the VPC released the report Kids Shooting Kids: Stories from Across the Nation of Unintentional Shootings Among Children and Youth.s Included in the report were unintentional shooting incidents in which both the shooter and victim were age 17 or younger. Intentional (suicide) and unintentional self-inflicted gunshot wounds were not included. Incidents were reported in 40 states and included both fatal and nonfatal shootings. The actual news clips from each state comprised the bulk of the report. News clips contained in the report included: 97 incidents in which a child or teenager was unintentionally killed by another child or teen; 125 incidents in which a child or teenager was unintentionally injured by a shot fired by another child or teen. In addition to the overall numbers obtained from the clip survey, discernable patterns began to emerge from the news clips of children and youth shooting one another:
No safety device or technology, however, can render a firearm "safe." All firearms, and handguns in particular, are inherently dangerous products. The risks presented by guns can be reduced, but not eliminated. Handguns are responsible for the vast majority of firearms death and injury. No combination of safety devices can adequately reduce the risks associated with this category of firearm. The most effective approach to reducing death and injury would be to ban the sale and possession of handguns. Short of this, the most effective preventative measure to protect children from the risk of firearms-related death and injury, however, is to keep homes gun-free.
q) The American Academy of Pediatrics "and its member pediatricians dedicate their efforts and resources to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. The Academy has 53,000 members in the United States, Canada, and Latin America."
r) A copy of the text of the letter is available from the VPC.
s) Beginning in
the fall of 1995 the Violence Policy Center undertook a project designed
to put a face on the numbers representing children and youth killed
and injured in unintentional shootings. From October 1995 to June 1996
the VPC used a national clipping service to collect news clips from
daily and weekly newspapers of reported incidents of unintentional shootings
involving children and youth. In reviewing the news clips, the most
striking and disturbing trend was the large number of incidents in which
children and teens unintentionally shot other children and teens. Kids
Shooting Kids focused on these incidents.
All contents © 2001 Violence Policy Center
All contents © 2001 Violence Policy Center