A few weeks ago, I was tabling at the Sanford Day of Unity at Fort Mellon Park. It was a beautiful day, with Lake Hamilton behind me, a light breeze in my hair, and the sun gently hitting my skin.
While tabling, a volunteer came by and handed me what I thought was a coloring book. He asked me if I had children — I politely said no, but took the book anyway with the thought that it would give me something to look at whenever the crowd took a lull.
Soon enough, I found myself examining the cover of this thin children's book. The title was Learn Gun Safety with Eddie Eagle and plastered on the cover was a giant white eagle holding a naked baby in its feather-hand with two other young children playing and running around it. The subtitle read, "The Attic Secret."
As I flipped through the pages of this children's activity book, my innocent curiosity quickly shifted to annoyance and then disgust. This was a book written for preschoolers to first graders with the intent of teaching kids not to play with the guns that they find through the hero-like advice of a large talking bird. This alone is an unlikely scenario; and the crux of the story revolved around a rifle in a grandmother's basement — another falsity in modern life because in reality, millions of children live in homes with guns and more than half of parents do not keep their guns locked and unloaded.
What made my heart even heavier was the fact that I was given this book in Sanford, the very city where Trayvon Martin, a young unarmed African American boy with Skittles in one hand and iced tea in the other, was shot to death in 2012 via Florida's Stand Your Ground law. What an insensitive piece of literature to pass out to a community hurt by gun violence in such a horrific way.
Guns lead to thousands of deaths and injuries among children every year. More American homes have guns than dogs, and nearly 1,500 children younger than 18 years of age die from shootings every year. The onus of these innocent lives lost are not on the children; they are on the irresponsible adults who are leaving loose firearms in their homes. Of course, it is important to educate children on what to do when they come across dangerous situations, such as unsupervised firearms. But why put the blame and pressure on children to handle dangerous firearms correctly?
I was certainly not surprised when I turned to the backside of this children's activity book to see the fine print that read: "Copyright National Rifle Association of America." Of course the NRA wants Eddie Eagle to be a children's symbol of gun safety. It is its solution to the lives lost to gun usage, and its idea of ensuring a future market of young gun users and, for them, hopeful owners.
In Florida, there are more than 1.2 million active concealed-carry permits, and each year more than 700 deaths are reported as a result of gun violence. Last year, UCF students nearly fell victim to a mass shooting via a former student who lived in Tower 1, and sometimes we receive a UCF alert to our phones warning us of a local armed robbery.
According to the Brady Campaign, every day 50 children and teens are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, accidents and police interventions. Lives are at stake, and it is time to toss out the coloring books and start thinking strategically about gun safety legislation.
Fortunately, there is good work already being done here in Florida and in other parts of the United States. Just last week, Washington voters easily approved a measure to expand background checks to cover all private sales and transfers of firearms, and the League of Women Voters of Florida has a strong Gun Safety Committee that is focused and studying the issue of gun safety here in the Sunshine State.
This isn't about gun control — it's about gun safety. And I think even Eddie Eagle would agree to that.