To Teach or Not Teach Gun Safety in School

The NRA in turn has criticized STAR by saying it teaches children that guns and gun owners are bad.

But critics of Eddie Eagle, STAR and the handful of lesser-known gun education programs for kids in school say there is no evidence that gun education alone reduces gun violence or gun-related injuries.

Critics Doubt Any Program Will Work

“The fact is that neither of these educational programs have ever been thoroughly evaluated and we don’t really know if they work or not. But there is a need to do something and an education program is a more direct and less controversial way to address handgun violence and injuries,” said Dr. Stephen Hargarten, chairman of Emergency Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Despite the criticism, officials in Carroll County school district, Md., will be among the most recent to experiment with a gun-avoidance program in grades K-12, starting this fall. Their program is based on both Eddie Eagle and STAR, but has been “tailored to fit our community,” said William Piercy, assistant supervisor of staff development and health for the district.

If the pilot program goes well, the school board plans to approve an official gun education program in the health curriculum by fall 2001.

“We think the best way to prevent accidents with guns and gun violence is through education. We live in a community where people do keep guns in their homes, people still hunt and there is still a farming community,” Piercy said.

“Teachers and parents can’t be with a child all the time so we need to educate them about the dangers of guns,” he added. “We teach kids about bicycle safety and about alcohol and drugs and sex education so they will have a foundation they can take with them in all situations.”

A few teachers were concerned the program may call for unloaded guns in the school for demonstrations. But there will be no guns in the classroom, Piercy said.

“It’s amazing how people in the community on both sides of the political spectrum have supported this. Most people agree it’s better to tackle the issue up front than try to avoid it,” Piercy said.

However, Hargarten and his colleague at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Richard Withers, co-director of the college’s Firearms Injury Center say they worry schools and parents will come to rely on education too much.

“I think education programs aren’t harmful, but whether it’s good for us to rely on them entirely is another question,” said Withers, who supports federal and private research dollars going to develop safe gun technology rather evaluation of gun education programs.

Daniel Webster, a health policy researcher at The Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health said most child psychologists and pediatricians agree kids will be kids to a large extent. Often children don’t hear what they don’t want to hear.

“Guns still appear glamorous to them in films and television and among their peers,” he said. “Education alone won’t do it and it can sometimes make parents and teachers somewhat complacent,” he said.

The Department of Education agrees that relying solely on education is not the answer.

“In schools the only thing that works to stop gun violence is some education combined with intervention, counselors in every school, parents getting involved, teachers being trained and involved and so on. Education is no silver bullet. It’s not really proven to work at all,” said Melinda Maliko, a department spokesperson.

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