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Gun-Safety Program Comes Under Attack For Cartoon Character

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In a controversial report released last week, a Washington advocacy group claims that a popular National Rifle Association gun-safety program for children in fact serves to promote gun use, an allegation the NRA called "totally unfounded."

The Violence Policy Center charges in its 144-page report that the NRA program, which features a feathered cartoon character named Eddie Eagle, is reminiscent of the Joe Camel cigarette ads that anti-smoking activists contend were designed to attract young smokers.

The Eddie Eagle mascot warns children not to touch guns and to tell an adult if they find one. Posters and videos for the safety campaign have been distributed to thousands of elementary schools.

The campaign, the report alleges, was financed in part by the firearms industry. Gun manufacturers have directly contributed more than $500,000 to the NRA's foundation, which sponsors the Eddie Eagle program. Firearms companies are sponsoring such projects, the report asserts, in an attempt to reduce support for government restrictions that would mandate child-safety locks on guns.

"The primary goal of the Eddie Eagle program is not to safeguard children, but to protect the interests of the NRA and the firearms industry by making guns more acceptable to children and youth," the report says. The NRA is "recruiting youth into America's gun culture by putting a friendly face on a hazardous product," the report continues.

About Safety

NRA officials sharply disputed the report last week, saying that the Eddie Eagle campaign is dedicated to promoting gun safety and not to cultivating future gun owners. Contrary to the report, NRA officials said, the gun industry is not underwriting the Eddie Eagle campaign.

The NRA has spent more than $10 million to teach 10 million schoolchildren about gun safety since the Eddie Eagle program began in 1988. Less than 1 percent of the donations to the Fairfax, Va.-based NRA Foundation--which finances the campaign--comes from the firearms industry, an NRA spokesman said.

"No one in America has done more to teach children how to avoid firearms accidents than the NRA, and we're proud of that," said Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president, in a written statement. To underscore his point, he cited a drop in the rate of unintentional gun deaths among children in the past two decades.

Connie Gooch, a kindergarten teacher in DeSoto, Mo., who has used the Eddie Eagle program in her classroom for nine years, said she likes the campaign because it teaches children in her rural community to be careful around hunting rifles and other firearms.

"It really explains to children that guns are dangerous and teaches them to be responsible," she said. "Eddie is a good role model," she said.

"Eddie Eagle is about safety, pure and simple," Mr. LaPierre added, "and it works."

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