Eddie Eagle is an NRA gun safety program formulated around keeping kids away from firearms. “Stop, don’t touch, run away, tell an Adult.”
By TONY BROWN
The eagle landed Saturday morning at The Hangar cinemaplex in Maryville — Eddie Eagle that is.
Eddie Eagle was the star of the show during a children’s gun-safety event hosted by Northwest Missouri GunSafe, a National Rifle Association-sanctioned program with the stated goal of teaching youngsters what to do when they encounter a firearm.
Designed for children in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade, the morning-long program offered coloring books/activity guides tailored for each of three age groups, along with repeated screenings of a 15-minute animated video featuring Eddie Eagle and his “wing team.”
The video, starring Eddie and a group of playground friends — all birds of various feathers — shows what happens after “Gary Goose” finds a backpack stashed under a park bench containing a semi-automatic handgun.
Gary and the rest of the gang, “Fiona Falcon,” “Maya Guacamaya” (Spanish for macaw) and “Howie Hummingbird,” all propose various strategies for dealing with the find, such as taking it to Fiona’s mother or the police.
At this point, Eddie swoops in singing the refrain, “Stop, don’t touch, run away, tell a grownup,” the program’s core message.
Families entering the theater passed by a table offering free educational materials and giveaways, including small boxes of crayons and one-page fliers, such as “A Parents’ Guide to Gun Safety,” which urges adults to eliminate the “mystery” surrounding gun by talking to their children about gun safety and emphasizing the deadly difference between real guns, toy guns and representations of guns in movies, television shows and video games.
The program also asks parents to “choose a storage solution that is right for their home” and renders firearms “inaccessible to unauthorized users and especially children.”
NWMO GunSafe was founded by local resident Sarah Graham, a certified concealed-carry instructor who has spent three years raising the money and awareness needed to launch the Eddie Eagle program, an effort that included the purchase from the NRA of a $3,000 Eddie mascot suit.
During that time, Graham said she received significant financial gifts from Wal-Mart and an anonymous private donor. GunSafe also staged a gun raffle and other fundraisers.
Saturday was the local GunSafe chapter’s first educational event, and Eddie was on hand offering hugs and high fives to youngsters as they entered the theater.
Graham said the program is generating interest, and that she has been contacted by a couple of school districts about the possibility of gun-safety assemblies.
Like anything having to do with guns these days, the Eddie Eagle program is controversial, and its effectiveness has been questioned by the American Academy of Pediatrics and gun-control advocacy organizations such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Violence Policy Center.
According to news reports, advocates of safe-storage laws intended to protect children from unsupervised access to firearms complain that the NRA opposes such efforts and promotes Eddie Eagle instead.
Graham, however, is convinced of the importance of teaching young children how to react when they encounter a firearm.
“Missouri is among the top-five states for toddler-related gun deaths,” she said. “We are in gun country, and it’s important for kids to know about gun safety.”Graham compared Eddie Eagle with similar campaigns addressing such child health and safety issues as drowning, household poisons and abductions.
In getting NWMO GunSafe off the ground, Graham said she encountered some resistance, including a chilly response from businesses that “wanted nothing to do with anything gun related.”
But for the most part, she said, the reaction has been positive and has included support from a number of local law enforcement officers.
“I really believe education is the key” to reducing the number of child-involved gun accidents, said Graham, who added that talking to children about guns can lessen their fascination with firearms and encourage safe behavior when a gun is encountered.
She said the Eddie Eagle program also stresses the role of parents and encourages safe, secure storage of both guns and ammunition.
“There are a lot of responsibilities that come with gun ownership,” Graham said.
Among the families at The Hangar on Saturday were Tom and Traci Snyders and their three sons, Will, 7, Joe, 8, and Frank, 3.
“Children need to learn to be safe around guns,” said Tom Snyders, who has already begun teaching his two oldest boys to shoot, long guns only at this point, no pistols.
“People don’t talk about it enough,” he said, “and it’s something that needs to be talked about constantly — to remind kids to be safe around guns.”