Why are Tennessee Schools Promoting an NRA Gun Safety Program That Is Ineffective?

Yesterday it was brought to our attention that these National Rifle Association flyers were being sent home with children in the Franklin Special Schools District. The flyer touts the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program that focuses on teaching kids what to do if they encounter a firearm. Rather than emphasize to adults the importance of responsible gun storage, the program puts the onus on children to not pick up any guns that they may encounter.

“This flyer and its message are problematic for many reasons,” said Beth Joslin Roth, policy director for The Safe Tennessee Project. “The most significant reason being that the Eddie Eagle program has been repeatedly shown to be ineffective.”

The United States Government Accountability Office published a report last summer that concluded that, “Children who received instruction in gun safety were no more likely than those who did not to heed basic rules about what to do if they came across a gun — like leaving the room, not touching the gun or notifying an adult. Informational sessions or videos did not instill consistent safe firearm habits in young children.” The NRA’s Eddie Eagle program did succeed at getting children between the ages of 4 and 6 to verbally repeat rules on what to do when they encounter a gun. But those same children were not significantly more likely than others who hadn’t gone through the Eddie Eagle training program to actually follow through with those behaviors when they encountered a gun.  

Earlier this year, a study was published in the journal Health Promotion Practice that came to a similar conclusion.  The study, School-Based and Community-Based Gun Safety Educational Strategies for Injury Prevention” found that Gun safety programs do not improve the likelihood that children will not handle firearms in an unsupervised situation.”

In 2017, there were at least 357 shootings related to negligent gun storage in the United States, an average of nearly one every single day, according to date from the Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance. Of those shootings, 138 were fatal.

In addition, both Dateline and 20/20 have aired episodes that addressed this issue. In each, children were provided gun safety training and were then put in situations where they encountered a gun. Many of the children, even after they participated in the training, still picked the gun up. Many pointed the gun at themselves or other children. The episodes were jarring, as parent after parent was shocked to see their child pick up and handle guns, even after being told not to do so.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has weighed in on this topic as well, noting that the presence of unlocked guns in the home increases the risk of both unintentional gun injuries and intentional shootings, including juvenile suicides. They also point out that safe storage and child access prevention laws are associated with lower adolescent suicide rates, even among those without a previous psychiatric diagnosis.

When state lawmakers try to pass child access prevention or safe storage laws, the NRA dispatches its lobbyists to statehouses with the message that such laws are unnecessary and that children just need to undergo the Eddie Eagle training to prevent unintentional shootings.  After learning about this practice, Dr. Lisa Monroe, the academic that helped designed the program spoke out. She said the NRA is misusing the program and that it was never to be a substitute for safe storage laws: “In no way should it ever be touted as a replacement for laws, or something that could single-handedly stop a shooting. That’s really misusing the program.” Monroe believes that gun owners should be held legally responsible for ensuring children cannot access their firearms.

This has been the case every year Safe Tennessee has tried to pass MaKayla’s Law, child access prevention legislation that would hold adult gun owners responsible if their choice to leave a loaded, unsecured firearm results in a child pulling the trigger and injuring and killing themselves or another person. The NRA actively worked to defeat the bill, even getting legislators who voted for the bill in subcommittee to vote against it in full committee.

Tennessee led the entire nation in the number of shootings involving kids and negligently-stored firearms last year. While Safe Tennessee strongly recommends that all parents discuss gun safety with their children, the only way to reliably prevent these shootings is responsible gun storage.

“Schools should be encouraging parents to practice safe storage and to always ask how guns are stored any place where their child plays,” Roth said.  “They should not be promoting a program that has been repeatedly shown to be ineffective, pushed by an organization that has purposefully obstructed efforts to put the responsibility of preventing these shootings on adults, not kids.”

Academic Studies on Child Access Prevention and Safe Storage

Tennessee Negligent-Storage Shooting Data

Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance National Data on Negligent-Storage Shooting Data