School-based gun safety could expand

August 16, 2000|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Carroll County's experiment with teaching gun safety to public school students as part of the health program this year could become a model for others in Maryland.

There has been little done statewide to teach children what to do if they find a gun or encounter one somewhere, said Ron Peiffer, Maryland's assistant superintendent for school and community outreach.

In Carroll, a committee of school staff, working with crime victims and law-enforcement representatives, has devised a program for students from kindergarten to high school that deals with guns as a personal safety issue.

Sen. Barbara Hoffman, a Democrat who represents Baltimore City and Baltimore County, said she will draft a bill to get similar programs in all of the state's school health programs. Her effort stems from discussions with John A. Price, 39, of Manchester, whose 13-year-old son John was killed in Baltimore County by a 9-year-old with a handgun.

"I don't want to mandate a specific curriculum, but I think every school system should teach gun safety," she said, comparing it to the decision by the state to undertake AIDS awareness programs.

"It's a good idea. Children should know what to do if they see a gun in the street, if they find a gun in their house," she said. "If we can help kids protect themselves, that's good."

Price also served on a committee assembled by William J. Piercy, Carroll's assistant supervisor of health and staff development, that developed the county program. The committee drew from various sources - some at opposite political poles, he said, calling it "a real community effort."

The school board will receive a report in November and could act on it, although it does not usually vote on specific segments of the curriculum, said School Board President C. Scott Stone.

"One thing we try to avoid is single stand-alone activities," Stone said. He cited the National Rifle Association's gun-safety program, "Eddie Eagle," as a "stand-alone activity. This is not to criticize it. But our experience is the best way to teach is to repeat and reinforce and build from year to year."

School officials said the impetus came from Carroll State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes, who has been giving presentations in the past year of the Eddie Eagle program, a cartoon figure with videos, coloring books and activities for elementary school children.

Jean Wasman, president of the Carroll County Council of PTAs, is eager to see how the pilot program works and said the health curriculum was a logical place for it.

"It never ceases to amaze me, even with children that are older, they would pick up a gun or guns would be lying around people's homes," she said.

The program's strong message of avoiding guns and telling an adult draws from the NRA, but also uses material from the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, the National Emergency Medicine Association, pediatricians' groups and local resources.

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