State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes has enlisted support from Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning and Westminster VFW Post 467 to introduce a National Rifle Association gun safety and gun avoidance program into Carroll County's elementary schools.
Called "Eddie Eagle" for its colorful mascot, the program promotes a concise message to children who find a gun: "Stop! Don't touch! Leave the area! Tell an adult!"
"Kids love Eddie, especially when he does his shuffle," said Kathy Cassidy, manager of the Eddie Eagle Firearms Safety program.
Eddie Eagle's shuffle, akin to the Macarena, mimics hand signals for the program's four-part message. Cassidy said the NRA began the program in 1988 after realizing no national campaigns targeted gun safety for children.
According to 1997 National Safety Council statistics, 1,500 people were injured in firearms accidents, up 15 percent from the 1996 national statistics.
Of those injured, 220 were under 15, 40 of whom were under 5 years old.
"Even one such tragic accident is too many," said Barnes. "If we can get the county school system to put this program into their curriculum, or even into their assembly programs, it can make a difference."
Dick Simmons, supervisor of pupil personnel and student support for county schools, attended yesterday's introduction of Eddie Eagle, featuring the mascot, a video and stickers and coloring books provided free for up to 300 pupils.
"How can you hate any program designed for keeping kids safe?" Simmons said. "The elementary-age kids will love this."
Simmons said he will present his views on the program to the county's instructional supervisors, who will determine if the program can or should be implemented in classrooms, or in one of a half-dozen assembly programs the county's 22 elementary school principals stage each year.
Ed Smith, junior vice commander of VFW Post 467, said Barnes came to the members seeking financial support.
The one-time cost of Eddie Eagle's costume is $2,750, and the program costs 16 cents per child for groups over 300.
"It seems like a good program," Smith said. "Kids are never too young to be taught safety."
Tregoning has chosen Sgt. Paul Nolte as his representative to help implement the program if it is accepted by the schools.
The program recommends the presence of a uniformed police officer like Nolte, Barnes said.
"I can't see any objection to introducing this safety program into the schools," said Barnes. "I realize it is created by the NRA, but it's one of the best programs of its kind.
"From what I see, none of the literature handed out to the kids promotes possession and use of guns or violence in any manner. If anything, Eddie Eagle is a safety program that teaches kids to avoid guns.
"There are no references to future NRA membership. This is strictly for child safety," he said.
Pub Date: 8/25/99