Workers put the finishing touches on the convention floor at the Georgia World Congress Center for the 146th NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Atlanta, which continues through Sunday. (HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM)

Opinion: NRA’s work helps keep kids safe around guns

Amid the sound and fury of the heated national debate over gun rights, one important fact is often lost: accidental firearms deaths are at an all-time low. The chance of a child dying in a firearm accident is literally one in a million. Those figures from the National Center for Health Statistics illustrate how effective gun safety programs have been in recent decades. As a lifelong gun owner, mother, and firearms instructor, I can tell you that education is the key to preventing accidental shootings. I credit one program in particular for the record-low number of accidental shootings among children, the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe program. Over the past three decades, more than 29 million children have learned the basics of how to be safe around a firearm from Eddie Eagle.

Because my husband is a former police officer and we both conceal-carry, we have always had guns in our home, even when our children were little. We kept the guns locked in a gun safe. When the kids were old enough, we took them to the gun range to teach them proper handling of and respect for guns. We always emphasized to our children that guns are a responsibility, not a toy. It’s important for parents to take an active role in teaching gun safety to their children, because too often children see guns in popular culture treated as if they were toys without any serious consequences.

Today, my husband and I own a gun range where we teach children the basics of gun safety with the Eddie Eagle GunSafe program. The message is direct, simple, and easy for children to remember. If you see a gun, stop, don’t touch, run away, tell a grownup. I am convinced those four easy steps have saved countless young lives. But it’s not just gun ranges that offer the Eddie Eagle program, schools and law enforcement agencies partner to teach children in kindergarten through fourth grade.

The Eddie Eagle program makes no value judgments about firearms, and no firearms are ever used in the program. The Eddie Eagle program has no agenda other than accident prevention — ensuring that children stay safe should they encounter a gun. The program never mentions the NRA. Nor does it encourage children to buy guns or to become NRA members.

This kind of safety training is more important now than ever because today guns are found in one out of every four American homes. So even if there are no guns in your home, there may be guns in the homes of friends that your children visit. To ensure their safety, your children must be trained what to do if they encounter a firearm.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accidental firearm fatalities among children of the Eddie Eagle program’s targeted age group have declined approximately 65 percent in the last 20 years. This downward trend coincides with an upward trend in gun ownership. Over the past several decades, the number of firearms owned by the American people has risen by more than 200 million.

From my own experience, I know that firearms safety education begins in the home. It is absolutely essential that parents store their guns safely and inaccessible to unauthorized users, especially children. The Eddie Eagle program offers an online brochure, “A Parent’s Guide to Gun Safety,” at https://eddieeagle.nra.org/. The website also includes The Eagle’s Nest, a kid-friendly online resource, the new Eddie Eagle animated short video with sing-along songs and additional activities.

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Leslie Deets lives in Roswell, where she and her husband own SharpShooters, USA, an indoor shooting range, training facility and retail store. Deets also owns Concealed Carrie, a line of concealed carry purses and accessories geared toward women.

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