In May, a local Arkansas new station wanted to know what young children would do if they found a firearm unsupervised. The station’s lead anchor led small groups of elementary school kids, usually siblings, into a bare room with toys and left them to play. Hidden among the building blocks and colored pencils was a nonfunctional BB-handgun. The play area was equipped with cameras and a two-way mirror, behind which watchful parents waited.

Some of the adults were relieved when their children immediately approached an adult for help; others gasped at what they saw. When one group of children stumbled on the weapon, a young boy named Braxton quickly shut it in a drawer. But his sister’s curiosity could not be contained. “Is that a real gun?” eight-year-old Grace piped. The girl opened the drawer, grabbed the weapon, and gazed down its barrel.

“We have a gun, but they don’t know it,” the girl’s mother said after the experiment. Her husband added, “We need to talk about it now. I never thought we did, but now we do.”

Eight-year-old Grace discovers the gun. Click the image to view the full video. (Photo: KAIT)

Approximately one out of every three children in the U.S. live in a home with a gun. About every other day, on average, a child under the age of 13 injures or kills someone with a firearm, an analysis of Gun Violence Archive data by The Trace found. Half of the nearly 300 shootings were self-inflicted. The children obtained these deadly weapons because an adult, usually a parent, left them unsecured.

Public health experts say the best way to prevent accidental shootings by children is to keep guns out of reach — stored locked and unloaded. Some states also have enacted legislation that seeks to hold adults accountable if their firearms are used by children in a shooting. The National Rifle Association opposes these so-called negligent storage laws. Most recently, the group helped quash a Tennessee bill mandating criminal penalties for adults. The legislation was dubbed “MaKayla’s Law,” in honor of an 8-year-old girl who was fatally shot by an 11-year-old neighbor, who used his parents’ shotgun.

A young boy couldn't resist playing with a found firearm. Photo: KAIT)
A young boy couldn’t resist playing with a found firearm. (Photo: KAIT)

As an alternative to storage requirements, the NRA offers its Eddie Eagle GunSafe program. The curriculum was developed to teach children how to react in the presence of a firearm with four simple commands: “Stop. Don’t touch. Run away. Tell a grown-up.” The group claims the program has helped lead to an 80 percent reduction in fatal firearms accidents involving children.

But, as The Trace has reported, studies show that Eddie Eagle isn’t as effective as the NRA claims.

“A lot of researchers have shown that parents will say, ‘Yes, my child will do the right thing,'” Dr. Raymond Miltenberger, who has conducted several studies on Eddie Eagle’s effectiveness, said in April. “But then when they’re tested, that kid will touch the gun.”

Miltenberger’s research found that children who had completed the NRA program didn’t always follow its rules. In one study of six- to seven-year-olds, only two of 15 left in a room with a firearm were able to successfully apply the lessons of the program and not touch the gun.

A 20/20 investigation from 2014 put Eddie Eagle to the test. The television news magazine put 44 young children in a room with a hidden, unloaded gun. More than half of of the group — 24 kids — was given a safety lesson from local police, which included watching an Eddie Eagle video.

The kids exposed to Eddie Eagle training were less likely to touch the gun, but almost 40 percent — nine of the 24 — still did. Two young boys were filmed chanting the program’s rules while dancing around the gun before touching it.

Parents featured in the 20/20 investigation were upset when they saw their children handling the weapons. One mother watched her son point the gun at a classmate and pull the trigger, and told producers that she didn’t think her child even knew what a firearm was. The mother’s experience supports academic research about parents’ perceptions of their children’s understanding of guns. One 2006 study asked parents if they believed their child had ever handled a gun. Twenty-two percent of parents who responded “no” were contradicted by their kids.

[Source: ABC News screenshot]