By Anna Guido
COLUMBUS - Timothy Grendell is adamant about teaching gun safety to kids.
In rural areas like his native Geauga County, he says, gun safety is often taught in the home and gun accidents are rare. But that's not the case in urban areas, which is why Rep. Grendell, R-Chesterland, worked for three years to get House Bill 95 passed this summer to fund gun safety education in Ohio schools.
"We teach sex education, we teach drug education - I think it's appropriate that we also teach gun safety education," Grendell says.
Ohio thus becomes the first state to fund gun safety education in public schools. This month, all 612 Ohio school superintendents were notified about the two-year, $40,000 pilot program, which will cover the cost of the National Rifle Association's Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program, designed for pupils in K-3.
"The eagle is a strong character that children can look up to," says Heidi Cifelli, program manager. "We wanted a cartoon-type character that children can relate to."
The "Eddie Eagle" motto is: "Stop! Don't Touch. Leave the Area. Tell an Adult."
Since 1975, there has been an 84 percent decline in fatal firearm accidents nationwide among those 14 or younger, according to the National Center for Health Statistics and the National Safety Council. With such encouraging numbers, why the need for a gun safety education program?
"Just because the number of deaths has gone down, it doesn't mean we should stop our efforts," Cifelli says. "Whether they're in a home with guns or not, in a rural setting or in an urban setting, children need to know not to touch a gun, just as they need to know to 'Stop, drop and roll.' "
Eddie Eagle has been endorsed by the National Safety Council, the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Sheriff's Association.
Critics include the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the center, says Eddie Eagle "is a marketing program masquerading as a gun safety program." His group refers to Eddie Eagle as "Joe Camel with feathers."
"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," Sugarmann said.
Improved pediatric trauma care in the past 15 years has played a significant part in the decrease in number of child deaths by guns - not educational programs like Eddie Eagle, Sugarmann said.
By implementing gun safety programs in Ohio, Grendell said, more children will be assured a proper education on what to do if they come upon an unsecured firearm.
The program, developed by the NRA 15 years ago, has been available in Cincinnati through law enforcement agencies, gun clubs and civic groups. Last year, Pierce Township police in Clermont County presented the program to fourth- and fifth-graders at Locust Corner Elementary in New Richmond.
"There's a lot of hunting in Clermont County. And with guns and rifles in the home, we wanted to make sure that children got the message," said former principal Charles Moore, now superintendent of the New Richmond Exempted Village School District.
About the program
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) 336-7402 or visit www.nrahq.org.
Orders for fiscal year 2004 must be received by Dec. 1. Schools can submit their invoice to the Ohio Department of Education for reimbursement. Total reimbursements for each year of the program will not exceed $20,000 and will be paid in the order they are received.
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