When are kids old enough to learn about gun safety? One school in rural Pennsylvania says age 6, and is offering a yearly program called Gun Stop that teaches kindergarteners how to stay safe around firearms.
“This course isn’t pro-gun or anti-gun; we teach kids how to be safe around guns, and not to be passive bystanders,” fourth grade teacher Daniel Krestar, who teaches the course at Forest Hills Elementary School in Sidman, tells Yahoo Parenting. More than 80 percent of homeowners in the school’s Cambria County county own a gun, according to WTAJ, which profiled the local program this week.
There’s no question that gun violence is rampant. A study conducted by the non-profit Everytown for Gun Safety, which analyzes unintentional gun deaths during the year following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shootings, showed that 100 boys and girls die from accidental gun deaths yearly. The group also found that there are more 1.37 school shootings per week, with the majority occurring at K-12 schools.
Gun Stop was first introduced by the Cambria District Attorney’s office two decades ago, and is taught each October. In it, students in kindergarten and again in third grade are educated on what to do if they see a gun and how to engage in non-violent conflict resolution. “We wanted to teach the course because statistics showed that 80 percent of local home owners kept guns in their home,” says Krestar. “And we focused on kids as young as kindergarten after reading studies that showed kids as young as 5 or 6 had the strength to pull the trigger of a handgun.”
In the 45-minute class (which is optional and open to parents of students, too), kids watch videos featuring Eddie Eagle, an animated bird character created by the National Rifle Association (NRA) who teaches kids four steps to take if they see a gun — stop, don’t touch, run away, and tell a grown-up — along with videos about McGruff the Crime Dog, a cartoon bloodhound featured in classic crime awareness ads.
Krester says the school doesn’t touch specifically on “the controversy” of school shootings, rather on how kids can work out issues non-violently. “it’s about kids being aggressive and strong enough to say ‘violence isn’t a good idea’ — not necessarily to approach that student — but conflict resolution through discussion,” he explains. Children also participate in role-playing exercises, such as what to do if they find a gun in their home, and read Dr. Seuss’s The Butter Battle Book, a children’s story about an arms race over breakfast food.
The Gun Stop program has received a favorable response from the community, says Krester, but there hasn’t been much evidence to show that gun-safety programs are effective to begin with. One 2004 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that existing gun safety programs — including Eagle Eddie — weren’t applicable in real-life scenarios. Study authors noted that when kids find guns, they’re likely to play with them, and that such classes ”do not prevent risk behaviors and may even increase gun handling among children.“ The study concluded by stating that more research is needed to determine the best method.
But according to Jennifer Hoppe, deputy director of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a campaign of the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, the best way to reduce gun deaths among children is to be keep the weapons out of children’s hands altogether. “It’s atrocious to put the onus of gun safety onto children — this is an adult problem,” Hoppe tells Yahoo Parenting. “Every gun that’s gotten into the hands of a child has first been under the control of an adult. A program that tries to dodge that is disingenuous.”
What’s more, she adds, "Accidental gun deaths among children are not ‘accidental.’ They’re preventable tragedies.” The organization’s new campaign Be Smart encourages parents to keep guns locked up, ask about unsecured guns before allowing children to play in someone else’s home, and recognize the link between teen suicide and access to guns.
"After all, you can tell a kid to be careful,” she says. “But you’ll still childproof your home, right?”
(Photo: We Are Central PA)