Eddie Eagle has been teaching children in Douglas County about guns since 1988, but Senate Bill 801 has restarted a debate on when to start teaching gun safety.
A bi-partisan education bill sponsored by Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, and Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, would authorize public schools to provide firearm safety and accident prevention classes to all students in first grade for 30 minutes each year.
“I see this as expanding on the safety education our elementary students already receive,” Riddle parent Rebecca Amela wrote in testimony for the March 27 public hearing on the bill. “My daughter is in kindergarten and has been taught, in school, about giving emergency information to police, stranger danger, and what to do in case of a fire. Many of these concepts have already been discussed in our home, however students need to have information repeated.”
League of Women Voters of Oregon opposes the bill, because it believes the “onus should be on adult gun owners to store weapons responsibly and keep firearms away from children.”
In its statement it also noted that according to a 2018 Rutgers School of Nursing study children do not retain the skills they learn in a gun safety program and that “a small child’s natural curiosity appears to hold far more sway than an annual thirty-minute class.”
Jenny Carloni, president of the League of Women Voters of Umpqua Valley, declined to comment.
Eddie Eagle, a community outreach program from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, is geared toward children preschool through third grade. Both Eddie Eagle and the curriculum mentioned in the Senate Bill focus on what children must do when encountering a firearm.
During Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program an officer would talk about safety issues, review the information, show a video, give a workbook, introduce Eddie Eagle and provide students with materials to take home to parents. Andrea Zielinski, the community outreach coordinator for the sheriff’s office, said Eddie would also tell students about safety in general, such as wearing a seatbelt in a car and a helmet when riding a bicycle.
“We’d go into schools and it’s all about gun safety and the message is ‘Stop, don’t touch, run away, tell an adult,’” Zielinski said. “Eddie would be at other events and (kids) would see him and sing the song and they’d be super excited.”
DCSO partnered with Friends of the National Rifle Association and Mercy Foundation for the Eddie Eagle program and will visit local groups, such as Boys Scouts as well.
“Since we were involved with our local schools in 13 school districts it just seemed like a natural fit to work with law enforcement and teach our Pre-K through third grade about what to do if any if this age group of children found a gun,” Mercy Foundation president Lisa Platt wrote in an email. “We continue to work with the program when the Sheriff’s department’s time allots for them to participate. This project was a great investment from our Tree of Hope committee and a wonderful example of collaboration between multiple organizations.”
Although Platt said she didn’t know specifics on the impact of the program, the pledge was something that many could recite when they saw Eddie Eagle at a different event.
DCSO’s Eddie Eagle website states, “Just as Smokey Bear teaches children not to play with lighters or matches, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office uses Eddie Eagle to teach kids not to play with firearms. The purpose of the program isn’t to teach whether guns are good or bad, but rather to promote the protection and safety of children.”
The program also notes that while children may not encounter guns in their own home, it is possible they will when they go to a friends or neighbors house.
“I teach in a rural school district where owning guns is a way of life,” Amela wrote. “Most of the teenagers have gone through hunter training courses. However, these courses are not aimed at elementary students and are for being in the wilderness and hunting. They do not teach that the violence that is in movies is not real. Especially with younger students this is very important.”
Under the new bill students are taught the difference between reality and toys or videos. Parents must be notified of the class and the class would take place during recess, so that students not attending the course could leave the classroom.
“We never got any pushback at all,” Zielinski said. “Schools were excited to have us and it wasn’t political at all. We have a community with a lot of firearms at home and it’s always a good reminder that it’s a weapon, not a toy.”
The League of Women Voters of Oregon finished its statement on SB801 with, “The League strongly supports evidence-based solutions, holding adults accountable for the health of our children, and the wise use of education dollars. We urge a no vote on SB801.”
Mercy Foundation and the Sheriff’s Office continue to work together during various safety-focused events in the area, such as the Festival of Tree-Healthy Families Vacation Day and the July Safety Day at Costco.
“Every year there is one question students will ask, ‘Why do we need this?,’” Amela wrote. “Many people will ask a similar question of ‘Why do we need this?’ My response to both questions is the same, ‘Because I do not know what is going to happen in your life. I don’t know when you’re going to need that one piece of information I taught you.’ We do not think every student will get lost, but we teach them to find a safe adult. We do not think every student will be in a fire, but we teach them what to do if one happens. We should be teaching students how to be safe with firearms as well.”