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Schools to Use NRA Program for Gun Education

May 19, 2010

By Alli Atayee
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Starting next school year, a new law allows local school boards to offer gun safety education in elementary schools, based on a program from the National Rifle Association.

The law requires that the program use guidelines based on “the rules of the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program.”

That program tells children to “STOP! Don’t Touch. Leave the Area. Tell an Adult,” if they come across a gun. The program was developed for students between kindergarten and third grade.

The new law is the result of House Bill 1217, which was introduced by Delegate Lynwood W. Lewis, D-Accomac, and passed by the General Assembly this year.

Lewis says the law is especially important for families in rural areas, where guns are a part of daily life.

“There are a number of areas where households and families hunt and there are firearms around,” he said.

Lewis said he does not expect densely populated areas like Fairfax County to offer gun safety courses. That’s why the program will be optional.

Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, proposed amending HB 1217 to allow the use of materials from the National Crime Prevention Center as well as the NRA. The Senate and then the House approved the bill with Saslaw’s amendment.

However, Gov. Bob McDonnell later removed the amendment because, he noted, there is no such organization. The correct name is the National Crime Prevention Council.

“Whoever drafted the amendment used the word center instead of council. There is no such thing as the National Crime Prevention Center, but there is a National Crime Prevention Council,” said Lori Hass, a board member for the Virginia Center for Public Safety, a nonprofit group dedicated to reducing gun violence.

“The governor was playing a game of semantics to force a lobby and their interests into the curriculum, into what they would offer local school boards.”

Hass is a parent of a student wounded during the April 17, 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech. She said incorporating the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program into the school curriculum would unnecessarily bring a special interest into the classroom.

“The General Assembly has no business mandating new programs that school systems have not asked for, while simultaneously cutting funding to school systems,” Hass said.

Stacey Johnson, the governor’s press secretary, says that rather than fix the name of the National Crime Prevention Council in HB 1217, McDonnell deleted mention of the group entirely because the council doesn’t have a stand-alone gun-safety program.

The General Assembly returned to the Capitol on April 21 to vote on the change that McDonnell made to HB 1217. The governor’s recommendation was adopted 68-24 by the House and 32-7 by the Senate.

Sen. George Barker, D-Alexandria, voted against the bill during the April 21 session, but not because of any NRA connection. Barker said the bill simply was unnecessary.

“School divisions have been able to provide arm safety information to kids for many years,” Barker said. “Many schools have used the Eddie Eagle program, and it seems to me unnecessary to create something that school divisions already do.”

Lewis said the NRA program is the industry standard when it comes to gun safety.

“The NRA has been doing this much longer than anyone else,” he said. “They have a more extensive track record. They have been out there for generations supporting gun safety.”

Lewis believes opposition to his bill, and to the change McDonnell made, is based on political preferences and not on the merit of the Eddie Eagle program.

“This is a prime example of how people have knee-jerk reactions to issues and organizations,” Lewis said.

“While you may have many disagreements with the NRA, you can’t argue that anyone has a better track record of promoting safety as they do. That’s what this is about – it’s about safety.”


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