Initially started by the National Rifle Association in 1988, the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program was relaunched this Spring with the help of a cartoon song and dance.
“Eddie and the Wing Team remain dedicated to keeping children safe, but we’ve modernized the program to keep up with today’s digital trends and expectations,” said Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, in a statement.
The new eight-minute video features Eddie Eagle and his “Wing Team” at what appears to be a public park. Eddie tries convincing his friends to play basketball with him until one of them – who Eddie interrupts in the middle of an intense handheld video game session – falls off the bench he was lounging on only to discover a backpack with a gun in it.
Eddie recites a song his father taught him, “Stop, don’t touch. Run away. Tell a grown-up,” and the group breaks out to accompany him.
The original verse went, “Stop, don’t touch. Leave the area. Tell an adult,” so not much of a change there.
The new video is part of an interactive website with games and resources for parents to explore with their kids.
The tab for grown-ups links to an NRA sub-page with a description of the program, testimonials and a section for teachers, which includes a prompt to check the site later for downloadable teacher guides. The NRA suggests educators from pre-kindergarten to fourth grade show students the video as part of their curriculum.
The guides were created by Dr. Lisa Monroe, an early childhood curriculum specialist at the University of Oklahoma.
“There’s nothing partisan about it or value-based,” Monroe said in a video testimonial. “I would say to a superintendent or school administrator that this Eddie Eagle program is absolutely appropriate for their schools and their children because it’s about safety.”
Safety is the message here and it’s not about politics, Monroe said.
“And if they were to get too caught up in who’s sponsoring it, then they’re missing the bigger picture,” Monroe said. “They’re prioritizing maybe political issues and those kinds of values over the values of protecting children and keeping them safe.”
Children will be exposed to guns, whether we like it or not and it’s in everyone’s best interest to teach them the best way to deal with finding a gun, Monroe said.
One testimonial video includes comment from several mothers praising the program and urging non-gun owning parents to teach their children about gun safety.
“Just because it’s not a part of your life doesn’t mean it’s not a part of other peoples’ lives and as a parent we can’t hold teaching our kids and raising our kids to other parents,” said one mother. “You have to let your children leave their home knowing everything they need to know. That’s your responsibility as a parent.”
Another video stresses the importance of parents discussing gun safety with one another.
“We ask parents all kinds of things, ‘Will you be home? What’s your schedule?’ Especially when you’re meeting parents for the first time.” one mother said. “I think it’s not the norm to ask (another parent if they own a gun in the home) and I think that it needs to be.”
The Centers for Disease Control found that in 2002 there were an estimated 1.7 million children living in homes with loaded and unlocked guns.
The NRA stresses that the program is aimed at protecting kids by promoting gun safety, but not everyone agrees with that assertion. There have been attacks on the Eddie Eagle program since its inception, some claiming the gun rights giant is using the campaign to market firearms to children, much like Joe Camel did for cigarettes.
“The Eddie Eagle program employs strategies similar to those utilized by America’s tobacco industry — from youth ‘educational’ programs that are in fact marketing tools to the use of appealing cartoon characters that aim to put a friendly face on a hazardous product. The hoped-for result is new customers for the industry and new members for the NRA,” according to a 1997 report written by the non-profit Violence Policy Center.
Whatever the case, the fact remains that an alarming number of children are injured and killed in firearms accidents every year – 69 deaths for kids 14 years old and younger in 2013, according to CDC data. The data found 107 similar deaths among those 15 to 24 years old the same year.
A study published last year in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that in 2009 more than 7,000 children and adolescents were hospitalized because of firearms-related injuries.
The total number of accidents could be underreported by law enforcement across the country because of how those agencies classified the incidents, a 2013 New York Times investigation found.
Assuming the Eddie Eagle Program isn’t a marketing tool used to lure children to future gun ownership, is it an effective gun safety education strategy?
ABC’s 20/20 last year found 44 children from the McMannis Preschool & Childcare Center in St. Petersburg, Florida, to participate in a gun safety experiment. Half of the group were separated and had a gun safety message reinforced by a local police officer and a screening of the NRA’s previous gun safety video. The kids were then made to sing Eddie’s gun safety mantra as a group.
Several days later, 20/20 was given several real, unloaded guns, which the police hid in a room among toys and candy. The experiment found that 18 of 30 boys touched the guns, even when they promised not to. Of those children who were reinforced with a gun safety message, only 9 of 24 touched the guns.
The NRA declined to comment by article publication.