Children who received instruction in gun safety were no more likely than those who did not to heed basic rules about what to do if they came across a gun — like leaving the room or notifying an adult — a federal review of four research papers found.
The assessment was included in a report from the Government Accountability Office on the state of research into preventing children’s access to guns. The GAO examined four studies published between 1996 and 2009 in academic journals of pediatrics and child development. The papers examined experimental lessons as well as the most prominent child-focused gun-safety program, the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle curriculum, which the group says has reached 13 million children since 1988.
Each of the four studies reached the same conclusion, according to the GAO’s analysis: that “behavior skills training” — typically, brief informational sessions or video presentations explaining what kids should do if they encounter a gun — “did not instill consistent safe firearm habits in young children.”
In one 2004 study reviewed by the GAO, an experiment found that the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program did succeed at getting children between the ages of 4 and 6 to verbally repeat rules on what to do when they encounter a gun, like leaving the room immediately and telling an adult. But notably, those same children were not significantly more likely than others who hadn’t gone through Eddie Eagle to actually adopt those behaviors when they encountered a gun in a realistic setting.
Only after multiple rounds of intensive hands-on training did children exhibit higher levels of safe behavior around guns. One study of 6- and 7-year-olds found that it took three rounds of training with simulated role play and evaluation for the children to demonstrate that they would leave a gun alone. Even then, 12 percent of the children failed to keep away from the weapons or tell an adult.
The NRA has presented Eddie Eagle, a video-based curriculum with follow-up activities that include coloring pages and writing a letter to parents about gun safety, as an alternative to laws mandating safe storage. The program entails a single session with a cartoon, a discussion, and written assignments. Children who go through Eddie Eagle don’t do role-playing exercises or see an adult modeling of appropriate behavior.
Lisa Monroe, a University of Oklahoma education professor who was contracted by the NRA to develop an Eddie Eagle curriculum, told our reporter Mike Spies last year that the program is supposed to be “a discussion starter,” and that “in no way should it ever be touted as a replacement for laws, or something that could single-handedly stop a shooting. That’s really misusing the program.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly 1,500 children under 18 died from gunshots in 2015, and emergency rooms treated kids for firearm injuries more than 6,900 times that year.