Metro columnist Dan Casey: Virginia schools get NRA-only gun education
By Dan Casey
Imagine the uproar across Virginia if the state developed a pregnancy-prevention program for 8-year-old school kids based on materials supplied by the National Abortion Rights Action League.
Virginians would be legitimately outraged, because NARAL is a lobbying group for abortion clinics.
Something similar occurred this year in the Virginia General Assembly with guns, but so far it has raised few eyebrows.
The new law prescribes a gun-education curriculum for Virginia elementary schools, based upon materials provided by the National Rifle Association's "Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program."
Late in the game, Gov. Bob McDonnell made a seemingly innocuous change that effectively limited curriculum input to the NRA.
That came after the NRA's political action committee spent $622,000 last fall on radio, television and online ads promoting McDonnell for governor.
This is what happened: House Bill 1217 was introduced by Del. Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomack County.
Under it, local boards of education would have the option of offering the program to students in kindergarten through fifth grade. But the law requires they follow the state-mandated curriculum if they offer any gun safety education.
In the version that emerged from the General Assembly, the bill required the curriculum be based on materials developed by the NRA and the National Crime Prevention Center.
There was just one hitch when it got to McDonnell's desk, according to Stacey Johnson, McDonnell's spokeswoman.
"When we researched National Crime Prevention Center -- it became evident that no such entity existed," she wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.
"The assumption was that it is a reference to the National Crime Prevention Council," she continued. (That's the outfit that has made McGruff the Crime Dog famous.)
But, Johnson added, "the council acknowledges their gun safety curriculum is out of date and would have to be updated."
Rather than change the word "Center" to "Council," the governor instead deleted any reference to the latter organization. The General Assembly agreed to the change.
McDonnell, she added, supported the bill "because educating children on firearm safety is a good way to help prevent accidents."
That is one way of looking at it, for sure.
Another perspective comes from the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit lobbying group in Washington that often advocates for gun control.
On Tuesday, I spoke with Josh Sugarmann, the center's executive director.
He likened the costumed mascot Eddie Eagle to an infamous tobacco industry marketing campaign aimed at getting children interested in smoking.
"It's Joe Camel with feathers," Sugarmann said.
"The bottom line is the Eddie Eagle program is a gun-marketing program masquerading as a gun safety program," Sugarmann added. "It fails to follow the basic rule: to protect children, you have to warn of the risk. Eddie Eagle never says that guns kill. If you say that guns kill, then kids may not want guns later."
The program does not use guns and teaches children who find them to not touch them, to leave the area and tell an adult, according to the NRA's Web site.
Until we spoke, Sugarmann was unaware that the NRA's Political Victory Fund had spent more than $600,000 to promote McDonnell's candidacy, independent of the governor's campaign.
Those numbers came from the Virginia Public Access Project, which tracks campaign donations to Virginia politicians.
"I'm surprised, not shocked," he said. "The NRA is expert at this, in utilizing their influence on the state level to try and move forward their agenda."
The gun lobbying group never contacted the McDonnell administration about the bill, Johnson said.
You'll have to decide for yourself what conclusions, if any, to draw from the changes McDonnell made to the bill, in light of the expenditures on his behalf by the NRA.
It seems to me that the only good thing is, local boards of education still have the option of not offering the NRA's program in elementary schools.
At least that's the law until the General Assembly convenes next year.
Dan Casey's column runs Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.