Joe Camel with Feathers – Introduction

In the last 10 years, the number of American children and youth who have died from unintentionala firearm injuries is nearly double the number of all passengers killed in U.S. airline accidents during the same period. From 1986 to 1995, more than 2,200 American children 14 years of age and younger died from unintentional shootings.1 During that same period, a total of 1,185 airline passengers were killed in U.S. airline crashes.2b

Not surprisingly, the most common victims of unintentional shootings in America are children and young adults.3 In 1995 alone, 181 kids were shot and killed unintentionally 15 children every month, one child every other day.4 Nearly eight times that number of children are treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms each year for nonfatal unintentional gunshot wounds.5c Although the victims of unintentional gunshot wounds are less likely to die than the victims of intentionally inflicted gunshot injuries, like all gunshot victims those who survive may suffer long-term impairment and permanent disability.

And while these numbers are shocking, they actually reflect a decrease in the number of children and youth killed unintentionally. Overall, from 1988 to 1994, rates of unintentional firearms death among children under the age of 15 actually fell by 40 percent�down to an average rate of 0.4 per 100,000.6

But still, compared to other western, industrial nations, the United States stands alone in the toll it exacts on its children and youth from unintentional firearm death and injury. The February 1997 federal Centers for Disease Control study “Rates of Homicide, Suicide, and Firearm-Related Death Among Children in Industrialized Countries” analyzed firearm-related deaths for children under age 15 in 26 countries and found that for unintentional firearm-related deaths for this age group, the rate in the United States was nine times higher than in the 25 other industrialized countries combined.

While the Centers for Disease Control and other members of the public health community have focused on the high price unintentional death and injury has exacted on America’s youth, pro-gun organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA)d urge Americans to take heart in the fact that “firearm accidents account for only 0.4 percent of all childhood deaths.” And while the citation of this number could be interpreted as an implicit dismissal of such deaths, sometimes the organization is far more direct. Writing in his 1994 paper The Federal Factoid Factory on Firearms and Violence: A Review of CDC Research and Politics, Paul Blackman, research coordinator for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action,e dismisses the victims of unintentional injuries, stating: “Even accident victims are apt to involve persons unusually aggressive, and from the underclass, persons with criminal records, rather than ordinary citizens.”7

Nevertheless, the NRA states that it “has developed The Eddie Eagle Program to help prevent the loss of even one young life.” Developed in 1987 by NRA President Marion Hammer, who at the time was the NRA’s Florida lobbyist, the Eddie Eagle program has evolved into a school-based curriculum that claims to teach “gun safety” to children in pre-school through sixth grade. The Eddie Eagle program bases its message on a four-part mantra for children to follow when they come across a gun: “Stop! Don’t touch. Leave the area. Tell an adult.” The namesake for the program is a bald eagle cartoon character. f

The NRA has not been reticent about crediting its program with playing a major role in decreasing the unintentional death toll among children and youth. A recent promotion for the program in the May 1997 issue of the NRA’s American Guardian magazine claims, “Eddie Eagle works. Today fatal gun accidents among children are at an all-time low….” Earlier, in a March 1994 article in the American Rifleman, Marion Hammer boasted “you can’t argue with success.”

Yet the National Rifle Association has never evaluated the effectiveness of the Eddie Eagle program. In citing its “success,” the organization merely points to the decrease in unintentional death involving youth and firearms and then takes credit for the drop.g

Such reductions may not necessarily represent a drop in the number of children suffering unintentional gunshot wounds, however, but only a reduction in the number of children who actually die from their injuries. For example, among the unacknowledged factors that may be contributing to this current trend are improvements in pediatric trauma care most notably in rural settings which increase the chances of a child surviving an unintentional shooting.8 In addition, while the overall unintentional firearms death rate among children and youth up to age 15 has declined, the rates among specific age groups have ebbed and flowed while remaining well above national averages. For example, the rate among boys 10 to 14 years of age has fluctuated over the last seven years with an average rate of 1.5 unintentional deaths per 100,000. This rate is nearly four times higher than the overall rate for children under 15 and three times the rate for all Americans.9

Unintentional firearm injuries involving children and youth are a very real problem that schools and communities are increasingly working to address. Recognizing this, the NRA despite its reassurances that unintentional gun deaths are not really a problem has worked to promote the Eddie Eagle program in public and private schools.

The primary goal behind Eddie Eagle, however, is not to safeguard children, but to protect the interests of the NRA and the firearms industry by increasing the acceptance of guns by children and youth. The Eddie Eagle program employs strategies similar to those utilized by America’s tobacco industry from youth “educational” programs that are in fact marketing tools to the use of appealing cartoon characters that aim to put a friendly face on a hazardous product. The hoped-for result is new customers for the industry and new members for the NRA.

The NRA funds the Eddie Eagle program through The NRA Foundation, a tax-deductible NRA “affiliate” which then makes “grants” to the NRA. Research by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) reveals that among the funders of The NRA Foundation are members of the firearms industry. These include: manufacturers of handguns (including Saturday Night Specials, or “junk guns”), rifles, and shotguns; ammunition manufacturers; and, manufacturers of reloading equipment. In addition, VPC research reveals that members of the tobacco industry have also made substantial contributions to The NRA Foundation.

While public health professionals work to protect children from the threat posed by guns and tobacco, these industries have joined together in search of what one gun industry member terms the “new blood” necessary for continued financial success. The purpose of this study is to detail the use of the Eddie Eagle program in this effort. The study is divided into three sections

Section One: “An Old-Fashioned Wrestling Match for the Hearts and Minds of our Children” details the NRA’s long history in attempting to win the “hearts and minds” of America’s children. The section also demonstrates how the activities of the NRA and the firearms industry to bring in potential new customers at an early age mirror similar efforts by the tobacco industry.

Section Two: “New Blood Really Helps” reveals for the first time that numerous gun industry members contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax-deductible contributions to the NRA through The NRA Foundation. The NRA Foundation then makes “grants” to the NRA to fund Eddie Eagle and other NRA programs. Donation of land of unknown value has also been made by industry members to The NRA Foundation for endowment programs. Industry members have also facilitated the donation of more than a million dollars to the NRA through point-of-purchase dealer and catalog sale programs. This section also documents for the first time tobacco industry contributions to the National Rifle Association through The NRA Foundation. Undercover interviews with NRA staff conducted by the Violence Policy Center and the Global Survival Network confirm that Eddie Eagle is not only a thinly disguised marketing tool used to “soften up guns” essentially Joe Camel with feathers but also acts as “the clean-up committee” to help burnish the NRA’s public image after gun control battles and further its agenda.

Section Three: “The Safest Thing is to Not Keep A Gun At Home” concludes the study and offers the findings of public health researchers that programs like Eddie Eagle do little to prevent unintentional death and injury and that the most effective approach to protecting children and youth from firearms is to remove guns from the home. This section also details the unique status of the firearms industry as the last manufacturer of a consumer product virtually unregulated for health and safety.
The study also contains six appendices

Appendix One: The History of Eddie Eagle recounts the creation of the program by NRA President Marion Hammer and her early efforts to introduce the Eddie Eagle program into Florida public schools. It then details how the NRA has attempted to use the program to kill child access prevention (CAP) laws which require gun owners to store their weapons safely and to make them inaccessible to children on the state and federal levels.

Appendix Two: False Claims of Endorsement Made by the NRA details the misleading tactics employed by the NRA in its attempts to use the credibility of other organizations in promoting the Eddie Eagle program. This section details how the NRA has not only misrepresented awards granted to the program by the National Safety Council, but has also falsely claimed endorsement by organizations and agencies such as D.A.R.E. and the Black United Fund, Inc.

Appendix Three: The Controversial Views of NRA Research Coordinator Paul Blackman on Kids and Guns details the NRA’s attempts to try and redefine the issue of kids and guns as being solely one of reducing unintentional firearms death among children. This section examines the writings of NRA Research Coordinator Paul Blackman and the organization’s dismissal and derision of young homicide victims.

Appendix Four: 1994 and 1995 Eddie Eagle Grants Made by The NRA Foundation details Eddie Eagle grants made by The NRA Foundation as reported in its 1994 and 1995 federal Form 990s.


Go to Section One: “An Old-Fashioned Wrestling Match for the Hearts and Minds of our Children”

Back to Joe Camel with Feathers Table of Contents

a) Unintentional shootings are often referred to as firearm “accidents.” This characterization, however, implies that injuries occur by chance and cannot be foreseen or prevented. Public health research has replaced the term “accident” with the more accurate term “unintentional injury.” This is based on the recognition that most unintentional injuries are preventable through the application of public health strategies including passive safety devices, public education, modification in product design, or limiting access to specific products.

b) According to the National Transportation Safety Board, an additional 160 crew and persons on the ground were also killed during this period.

c) While often overlooked, nonfatal firearm-related injuries create an enormous public health-care burden in the United States. A 1995 study in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) of national estimates of nonfatal firearm-related injuries revealed that for every person who dies from an unintentional gunshot wound each year, 13 others are treated in hospital emergency departments for unintentional, nonfatal gunshot wounds. Although unintentional firearm-related injuries are less likely to result in death, those who survive severe gunshot wounds can be subject to long-term impairment and permanent disability. One study, “Unintentional, Nonfatal Firearm-Related Injuries” by Nancy Sinauer, MPH, et al, showed that of the more than 17,000 persons with unintentional, nonfatal gunshot wounds treated in hospital emergency rooms annually, about 38 percent of emergency room patients had injuries severe enough to require hospitalization. The same study found that unintentional, nonfatal gunshot wounds often involve a handgun and are self-inflicted. About half of unintentional gunshot wounds treated in hospital emergency departments were associated with routine gun-related procedures (e.g. cleaning a gun, loading or unloading a gun, and carrying, showing, or looking at a gun), suggesting that these common gun-handling practices can be hazardous.

d) The National Rifle Association of America (NRA) is a 501(c)(4) lobbying organization with an estimated 2.8 million members that describes itself as “the foremost guardian of the traditional American right to `keep and bear arms.'” The NRA’s 1995 revenue totaled $145 million and the organization ended that year with a deficit of $51 million.

e) The Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) division of the NRA lobbies “against federal and state gun legislation to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, especially with reference to the rights of the individual American citizen to acquire, possess, transport, carry and enjoy the right to use arms.” The NRA reported ILA’s 1995 budget as more than $12 million.

f) In an interview in the Fall 1995 issue of The Eagle Eye, an NRA newsletter promoting the Eddie Eagle program, Marion Hammer shared how she came up with the idea of an eagle: “The eagle was a natural choice. Part of NRA’s logo is an eagle and so it worked well with the rest of the Association’s symbolism.”

g) The NRA’s August 1997 American Guardian magazine featured the article, “Keeping an Eagle Eye on Gun Safety,” which claimed to measure benefits from the Eddie Eagle program 12 years before it even began: “By reaching almost 10 million children, Eddie Eagle has contributed to a 64% decrease, since 1975, in firearm deaths of children 14 and younger….”

h) One study, “Pediatric Firearm-Related Fatalities: Not Just an Urban Problem,” published by James E. Svenson, MD, MSc et al, in the June 1996 edition of the Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, found that for pediatric firearm-related fatalities in a rural area of Kentucky, the relative risk of death from an unintentional firearms injury was almost twice as high (1.97) in the absence of advanced life support (ALS) prehospital care, and significantly higher in the absence of a 911 emergency service. The authors noted, “We and other investigators have found a correlation with the presence of prehospital ALS care and lower pediatric death rates in the rural environment.”