Va. to use NRA measures in new gun-safety program
RICHMOND, Va. - A new law will require Virginia's education department to come up with a gun-safety program for public elementary schools that incorporates guidelines from the National Rifle Association.
The law allows local school divisions to offer gun-safety education to pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade. While each school board can decide whether to offer it, those that do must use the state curriculum guidelines--which will include rules used by the NRA's Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program.
Legislation passed in March by the General Assembly had included an amendment that allowed the guidelines to include materials from the National Crime Prevention Center. Gov. Bob McDonnell proposed removing the amendment because there is no group by that name, and the legislature on Wednesday approved his change.
While the legislation meant to refer to the National Crime Prevention Council, McDonnell spokeswoman Stacey Johnson says that rather than fixing the group's name, the governor deleted it because the council doesn't have a current standalone gun-safety program.
The law requires that curriculum guidelines "shall incorporate, among other principles of firearm safety, accident prevention and the rules upon which the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program offered by the National Rifle Association is based."
The program uses the Eddie Eagle mascot to advise children: "If you see a gun: STOP! Don't Touch. Leave the Area. Tell an Adult."
NRA's Eddie Eagle website says that the program's goal "isn't to teach whether guns are good or bad, but rather to promote the protection and safety of children."
Opponents of the NRA's prominence in the law include a group called Virginians for Public Safety, affiliated with a number of Virginia Tech massacre victims' families who have advocated for stricter gun-control measures, including federal legislation to require private firearms sellers to conduct background checks on prospective buyers.
"It's frustrating," Lori Haas, the mother of injured student Emily Haas, said Thursday. "The General Assembly has no business mandating new programs that school systems have not asked for, while simultaneously cutting funding to school systems."
Haas said that while the Eddie Eagle program may be considered an industry standard-bearer, the gun lobby shouldn't be shaping school curriculums, and decisions about teaching gun safety to children should be left to their parents.
The National Rifle Association spent more than $620,000 towards McDonnell's election efforts in 2009, including more than $537,000 on television and radio advertising, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle said Thursday that agency staff will create draft guidelines, and the public will be given chances to review and comment on the proposed measures before they're presented to the state Board of Education for final adoption.
The legislation's fiscal impact statement says that it's likely that the department will have to "contract out for assistance in developing curriculum guidelines," but had no estimate of the potential cost.
Pyle said that it was too early to address whether the education department would meet with NRA staff to shape the guidelines, but such a process "often does involve bringing in parties with expertise in the areas. That only makes sense." He also said that the department also would look at other safety programs if they fit the law's requirements.
The Eddie Eagle program already is offered in schools across the country and in Virginia. The Department of Education doesn't track which local schools currently offer such firearms-safety lessons, Pyle said.