Fight over Eddie Eagle gun training continues at Kansas Statehouse
TOPEKA, Kan. (KAKE) - Supporters of the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Eddie Eagle GunSafe course are once again asking Kansas lawmakers to make it part of the curriculum in state elementary schools. But it met with stiff resistance from some, for a variety of reasons.
"Stop! Don't touch! Run away! Tell a grown-up!"
Those are the four steps of the Eddie Eagle GunSafe program, taught to kids through a cartoon eagle and songs. The program has been around since 1988, more than three decades. The NRA says millions of American kids have gone through the training.
Now, for the third straight legislative session, Kansas lawmakers want to require any gun safety courses taught in Kansas' public elementary schools be based on those four safety steps.
“This is not only the gold standard, this is simple to understand,” Rep. Patrick Penn, a Wichita Republican, told members of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee on Tuesday morning.
“We teach sex ed. We teach body safety. We teach drivers ed,” added Rep. Rebecca Schmoe, R Ottawa. “Why would anyone purposefully leave out teaching children how to keep themselves safe around firearms?”
Schmoe added, with so many more guns in public now that Kansas is a constitutional carry state, kids are more likely to encounter a dangerous situation than ever before.
“I urge you to equip our children with this fundamental, uniform, decades-proven effective, accident prevention education. They need this education in order to keep themselves safe while we are not there to keep them safe,” she said. “If you go to the grocery store, in any town, any grocery store, you are likely around a firearm.”
But other lawmakers questioned that reasoning.
“So, because now guns are everywhere, now we need to train our children to be safe?” asked Rep. Stephanie Sawyer Clayton, D Overland Park. “I would posit this theory - perhaps we can repeal constitutional carry and make people safer. If you need a gun to go to the grocery store in Kansas, that's an issue.
Like Schmoe, other supporters told lawmakers the Eddie Eagle program is the gold standard because it works. They pointed to how alumni can remember the four step slogan decades later.
But opponents pointed to studies that have shown, when left unsupervised, kids who had completed the training were just as likely to pick up and play with a gun as students who hadn't had the training. The American Academy of Pediatrics has deemed the program ineffective.
“Is there any studies or indications or data that this was an effective program?” asked Rep. Christina Haswood, D Lawrence, of the NRA’s Travis Couture-Lovelady.
“Yeah, I'm aware of that anti-NRA study, understand where they're coming from but the program has been very effective for many years. And there are a lot of folks that agree with that. ,” Couture-Lovelady answered. “I understand that. They tried to discredit the program through a study. But, now, I find it highly effective.”
“So you don't have any data?” Haswood pressed.
“There are millions of kids trained. Millions of kids have gone through the program and find it very effective. Parents find it very effective.”
And then there was the argument over whether setting curriculum is the state legislature's job at all.
“Interestingly, none of the proponents of this bill has ever contacted the state board, that I know of, to discuss firearm training in schools,” said Ann Mah, Kansas State Board of Education.
She added, “There is nothing in this bill that would provide firearm safety training to a single student who does not already have it available. Nothing. If the school is not offering already, there is nothing in the bill to encourage them to do that. In fact, mandating the curriculum over local decisions might discourage them from offering firearm safety. If you want to get more kids into firearm safety training, then fund it because, by the Kansas Constitution, that is your job…The legislature has no authority over curricula standards.”
When asked about whose job it is to determine curriculum, Penn responded with his own question.
“Right. And who supervises the Kansas State Board of Education?”
“They are directly elected by the people of Kansas,” said Rep. Dennis Highberger, D Lawrence.
“Exactly. And those are the same people who elected us,” Penn said.
That fight over who's got the right to make these rules is why the governor said she vetoed a similar bill last year.
This bill is still in committee after Tuesday’s hearing, but the Kansas Senate has already approved an identical bill. In addition to the Eddie Eagle-based training in elementary school, both proposals would also require any high school courses to be based on the state's Department of Wildlife hunter safety program, and middle school courses to be a mix of hunter safety and Eddie Eagle.