Who is to blame when children have accidents with guns?

By Chad D. Baus

It's all too familiar a story:

    A 12-year-old boy was critically injured Tuesday night after he was shot in the chest by a gun that was found in the street.

    Police said the boy and a 10-year-old friend found the loaded weapon in an alley behind the 300 block of South Napoleon Avenue on the city's east side.

    "One child, the 10-year-old, was shot in the hand," said Columbus police Sgt. Christ Holzhauser. "He stated he found the weapon and was touching it and the weapon went off and the second kid received the shot in the chest."

    ...Police said the weapon was a .22 caliber pistol.

    Authorities were hoping neighbors would help them determine who owned the weapon. Police indicated they think someone in the neighborhood may have tossed the gun in the alley.

This most recent occurrence in Ohio was on June 6, 2007, but when it happened I immediately thought back to a strikingly similar incident from July 1, 2004 in Dayton.

From a story originally published in the Dayton Daily News:

    A 7-year-old boy was accidentally shot Wednesday by his 5-year-old neighbor who was playing with a loaded .22 revolver the older boy found in an alley, police said.

    [The child] found the gun in the morning in an alley behind his house, [Sgt. Kelly] Hamilton said. He hid it before returning to the alley to show the revolver to his friends, both 5-year-olds.

    Neighbors said they think the gun might be connected to a recent robbery in the area.

    "They were looking at it, playing with it and it discharged," Hamilton said, adding that the revolver was loaded with .22 Magnum rounds.

    "It was in a trash can in the alley. The kids threw it in there after it discharged."

Several things bother me about this story (for instance: those familiar with firearms know that saying "the gun discharged when I picked it up" is code for "I pulled the trigger". But newspapers never seem to get that little fact in there - after all, why blame the operator when you can blame the gun?), but nothing bothers me as much as the parental ignorance and irresponsibility that led to these tragedies.

Columbus Dispatch, June 6, 2007:

    [The child's mother] said she never felt the need to warn her children, who range in age from 5 to 12, about what to do if they found a gun.

    "I've never had a gun in my possession, and I'd never thought they'd find a gun in the backyard," she said.

Dayton Daily News, July 1, 2004:

    [The child's mother], 34, said her son...told her he shot his playmate. She then told the victim's mother.

    "I don't know why he was playing with a gun," [she] said. "I don't even allow him to play with guns, water guns, toy guns, anything. Period."

    [The victim's mother] said, "I teach my kids not to play with guns."

I use examples like these in my concealed carry courses to stress to parents that it is their responsibility to educate their kids about guns. Sgt. Hamilton agrees, telling the DDN it is parents' responsibility to teach their children to contact an adult when they find a gun.

Teaching children what to do if they find a gun is imperative for all parents, whether or not they keep a firearm in their home, for the simple fact that the child will not always be in the home. As these two examples show, the potential exists for even young children to come into unauthorized, unsupervised contact with a firearm, and only proactive education by their parents can prevent a negative outcome when they do.

Teaching children what to do if they find a gun is no different than teaching a child that ovens should always be considered hot, that matches and lighters are not to be played with, or that they should not talk to strangers. Most of us do not make a habit of keeping strangers in our homes, yet no one would debate the importance of educating our children about potential predators.

In addition to parents, there is another group of people who have the blood of these innocent children on their hands: gun ban extremists.

Just a few years ago, a group of nurses evaluated more than 80 gun accident prevention programs designed to help kids learn what to do if they find a gun, and published the results of their study in the Journal of Emergency Nursing Online (October 2001). The study named The "Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program" as one of the very best. Additionally, Eddie Eagle has been endorsed by the National Safety Council, the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Sheriff's Association. Yet because this program was devised by people involved with the National Rifle Association (NRA), gun ban extremists do everything they can to make certain that children are not taught the important lessons this curriculum contains.

The "Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program" has no agenda other than accident prevention - ensuring that children stay safe should they encounter a gun. Despite the fact that the program prohibits the use of Eddie Eagle mascots anywhere that guns are present, gun ban extremists have taken to disparaging Eddie Eagle as "Joe Camel with feathers".

Indeed, because of her hatred for the NRA, Toby Hoover, who often appears to be a one-woman show at the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, either lied or betrayed her ignorance (regarding a topic journalists insist on presenting her as an expert on) about the proven effectiveness of this program to the Columbus Dispatch:

    The National Rifle Association sponsors a gun-safety program for elementary schools that warns children who find guns to "Stop. Don't touch. Leave the area. Tell an adult."

    But even children who have participated in such programs have touched guns when placed under observation in research studies, said Toby Hoover, executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence.

    "There isn't a program out there that has proven effective," she said. "The biggest emphasis has to be on the adult gun owners. We need to teach them that they are going to be held accountable if one of their guns gets in a kid's hands."

"There isn't a program out there that has proven effective." The nurses behind the Journal of Emergency Nursing Online study heartily disagree.

Unfortunately, the myth created by the gun ban crowd, who claim to be proponents of safety ("if it saves the life of just one child...") has taken root in many places. In 2003, when the Ohio legislature had the good wisdom to set aside funds for elementary schools to purchase curriculum materials for the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program, the extremists were deeply critical:

    "Just like the alcohol and tobacco industries have worked to find ways to reach out to underage consumers, Eddie Eagle is one component of the NRA's efforts to reach out to underage gun consumers," [Violence Policy Center Executive Director Josh] Sugarmann said.

It is because of comments like Hoover's and Sugarmann's that I place the blame for accidents like the ones in Columbus and Dayton not only on apathetic or ignorant parents, but also on gun ban extremists, who are putting their desire to weaken a political enemy ahead of children's very lives.

And it is because of comments like Hoover's and Sugarmann's that I believe am having difficulty getting my offer to volunteer my time to teach the "Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program" in my son's elementary school accepted.

I've been trying for nearly a year now, and after working around concerns about how much time the program would take away from class studies, etc., I reached what I suspect is the real reason for the hesitancy, when the powers-that-be referenced "a desire to stay away from any materials printed or published or endorsed for political causes," despite having already been provided with materials stressing that Eddie Eagle is never shown touching a firearm, that he does not promote firearm ownership or use, that the program never mentions the NRA, nor does it encourage children to buy guns or to become NRA members.

Still more evidence that the lies told by gun ban extremists' have taken root was revealed when the funds the General Assembly set aside for schools to pay for "Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program" materials in 2003 were pulled after one budget cycle - too few schools took advantage of it.

What have we come to in this country when educators fail to take advantage of offers of free teaching materials designed to prevent children from potential tragedy, especially when it is being offered by volunteer instructors? And what does it say about these so-called anti-gun "child safety" extremists that they actively attempt to torpedo a program that has been proven to work to reduce incidents of children having accidents with firearms?

If your children haven't been taught what to do if they find a gun, it is your responsibility to teach them. ORDER THE VIDEO NOW!

If your school isn't teaching the "Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program", ask the superintendent why not. Anyone can teach the material, and it can be covered in 30 minutes to an hour. Volunteer to do it for them!

The "Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program" is designed for students in grades K-3. The self-explanatory program includes a student workbook, corresponding instructor guide, reward stickers, posters and parent guides.
School districts wishing to participate in the pilot program should call the National Rifle Association at (800) 231-0752, email [email protected] or visit http://www.nrahq.org/safety/eddie/.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman, an NRA-certified firearms instructor and the proud father of two "Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program" graduates.

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