The National Rifle Association argues that guns and their inherent lethality are not the issue, but rather the behavior of children (or their parents) when they are around firearms—essentially guns don’t kill, kids do. Eddie Eagle materials present firearms as an inevitable part of a child’s experience, stating: “Even if no one in your family owns a gun, chances are that someone you know does.” Children’s exposure to firearms is encouraged as long as adults are around. The parents’ brochure discusses when children can advance from Eddie Eagle to actual gun handling and use. The section “Where to Get Training” suggests:
The time may come when you or your family members want to learn how to handle and shoot a gun safely. In the case of a child, his or her attitude, learning ability, and physical and emotional maturity are some of the factors to be weighed before allowing formal instruction to begin. When a parent decides a young person is ready, many training opportunities are available. Providing instruction in the safe handling, use, and storage of firearms is one of the NRA’s most important functions.
As schools struggle to choose conflict-resolution and violence-reduction programs in the face of increasing firearms death and injury among youth, the NRA has tried to reframe the problem of kids and guns to suit its own political, programmatic, and marketing agendas. Eddie Eagle attempts to define the problem of kids and guns as being solely one of reducing unintentional firearms death among children. The most common aspects of gun death and injury among youth—homicide and suicide—are ignored. To an organization that consistently blames the victim by characterizing young homicide victims as criminals, gang members, or members of the drug trade, such an approach is not surprising. In its publications and public statements, the NRA dismisses the increasing number of allegedly “bad” kids who die in homicides and suicides, while focusing its attention on the supposedly “good” kids who die from unintentional injuries.
Based on the writings of NRA Research Coordinator Paul Blackman, the organization’s dismissal and derision of young homicide victims (who are disproportionately African-American) is not surprising and is disturbingly predictable. In his 1994 paper, The Federal Factoid Factory on Firearms and Violence: A Review of CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] Research and Politics, Blackman writes:
The…facts…belie the notion that the average victim of gun shot wounds is just an ordinary person, that we are all victims. The victims are largely unsavory persons; some are just poor; many are just unsavory. Again, this lends support to the proposition that victims of violence are frequently not innocent bystanders but are involved in lives of violence.
In the paper, Blackman dismisses public health researchers who have decried the $20-billion-a-year medical and lost-productivity costs due to firearms violence and argues that since young homicide victims are “frequently criminals themselves and/or drug addicts or users” their deaths offer “net gains” to society:
While the $1.4 billion figure [for direct medical costs] may have been carefully calculated, the estimate of $17.4 billion—most of the remainder of the $20 billion—is for lost productivity of those killed. It is the figure which leads [Dr. James] Mercy [of the federal Centers for Disease Control] to assert that gun shot fatalities are the costliest of premature deaths to society. The reason Mercy finds them costliest is that the victims of gunshot fatalities are, on the average, younger than victims of most other injury fatalities, and thus in theory have more years of productive life lost. The flaw in the assumption regarding the costs to society is that the presumption is that persons killed with guns would, absent the gunshot wound, have led productive working-class lives. In fact, studies of homicide victims—especially the increasing number of younger ones—suggest they are frequently criminals themselves and/or drug addicts or users. It is quite possible that their deaths, in terms of economic consequences to society, are net gains. Society is freed from costs of $20,000 per year for imprisonment, and of the costs criminals impose on society, which, among the most active of criminals, has been estimated at upwards of $400,000 per year….A failure to understand who is dying of gunshot wounds, and what they would have done had they not died, makes the `lost productivity’ costs nonsensical.26
A July 1996 article in the Washington Post headlined “Race Key Factor in Homicide, Researcher Asserts,” detailed Blackman’s thinking on race and crime, and noted, “In an effort to rebut research linking rising homicide rates to wider availability of firearms, a top National Rifle Association researcher has said that such analysis is flawed because it often ignores the `significant’ role race plays in murder.” The article quotes Blackman as asserting, “Textbook epidemiology notes that despite the controversy of studying disease by race, differences in frequency and severity among racial groups may be too great to ignore.” 27
In a 1994 paper called, Children and Guns, Blackman explained why racial differences between NRA members and “inner city” residents limit the NRA’s lobbying on issues related to “adolescent misuse of firearms”—
[T]he NRA is composed primarily of non-big-city middle-class white males, whose children are not having problems with the misuse of firearms. NRA members will contribute to the NRA, and will personally contact politicians, more effectively when they are personally threatened by something happening in society, or by legislative efforts to address a problem. They cannot be counted on any more than any other non-big-city middle-class whites to actively lobby to rebuild the inner cities. And, having collected funds for lobbying and electioneering on issues directly affecting the right to keep and bear arms, it would be improper, if not unlawful, for the lobbying arm of the NRA to expend massive efforts lobbying on other matters. Further, even if the NRA attempted fully to address the problems of the inner city, it would no more be welcomed unhesitatingly and unsuspiciously than would any other proposed interference by people who do not look as if they belong in the inner city; NRA activities, however well intended, would be perceived as meddling.28