The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 19, 2013

Gun-safety course not at top of list for local school districts

Missouri schools will be encouraged to teach first-graders a gun-safety course sponsored by the National Rifle Association as a result of legislation signed last week by Gov. Jay Nixon.

But the course is unlikely to appear in most Southwest Missouri classrooms any time soon, according to local school superintendents, many of whom said this week that they have not yet had any discussions about using it in their districts.

The new law stops short of requiring schools to teach the Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program. By putting it in state law, Missouri is providing one of the stronger state-sanctioned endorsements of the NRA-sponsored firearms safety course, which the group says is taught to about a million children annually.

The course initially was proposed as a mandate when the legislation was filed on Dec. 13, which was the day before a gunman massacred 26 people in a Connecticut elementary school, including 20 first-graders. The provision was amended during Senate debate to make it optional.

Asked if he supported the course for first-graders, Nixon noted that it was optional.

“Allowing the local school districts to make those choices is appropriate,” he said.

According to the NRA, more than 20 state legislatures have passed measures encouraging the use of its Eddie Eagle course in schools since the gun-safety program began in 1988. Ohio became the first state to provide financing for it about a decade ago. But Missouri is among just a few states — including North Carolina, Texas and Virginia — to endorse the program with state laws.

“It’s teaching a great safety message to children that could possibly save their life,” said Eric Lipp, the NRA’s national manager of community outreach.

Some of Missouri’s school teacher and administrator groups took no position on the legislation, largely because it’s optional. It was unclear how many Missouri schools already are using the program, or whether the official allowance for it in state law will encourage more to do so.

“How many districts will do this is anyone’s guess,” said Brent Ghan, a spokesman for the Missouri School Boards’ Association.

Joplin Superintendent C.J. Huff said the issue has not been brought before the school board, and that implementing such a course could be problematic if it were to take time away from classroom instruction.

“We’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to teach kids at that level, and bringing in something else means something has to come off the plate,” he said.

Huff also said he doubts the course would get “100 percent consensus” in approval from local parents, teachers and administrators.

“I just don’t get the sense in Joplin that would be well received,” he said.

Phil Cook, superintendent of Carl Junction schools, said there have been no discussions in his district about incorporating the program into the curriculum.

“I guess I’m a little indifferent to it right now,” he said. “There are a lot of things that are higher on my list of things to do than that.”

Cook said he thinks gun safety is important, but the responsibility of teaching it shouldn’t necessarily rest with a school.

“I grew up in a home of hunters, and I was taught gun safety at a very young age, and I can tell you, as a parent and a son of a hunter, we would rather teach gun safety to our children than have a school do it,” he said.

Tony Rossetti, superintendent in Webb City, said he has had no conversations in his district about using the course in classes.

“If anything, we’re just skimming the surface right now before we make any decision about whether we even want to pursue it,” he said.

Neosho Superintendent Dan Decker said administrators have not discussed using the course, in part because he is newly hired and still getting to know the district and the school board.

“This will be something we discuss in the future and develop a stance on, but right now it is too early for me to guess what that stance will be,” he said in an email.

Carthage Superintendent Blaine Henningsen said administrators have talked about the legislation, but have made no decisions about whether to implement the course.

“We will meet with our elementary administration when they come back (next month), and this will be one of the topics we discuss,” he said.

Steve Wilmoth, superintendent of Seneca schools, said he thinks it’s possible that the district’s agriculture program could eventually implement a gun-safety course for its students, as there are already safety courses in place for bows and arrows. But a districtwide course hasn’t been discussed by administrators, he said.

Globe staff writer Emily Younker and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video

The NRA program includes a video in which an eagle character teaches children four basic rules if they see a gun: “STOP! Don’t touch. Leave the area. Tell an adult.”

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