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Children, NRA members rally about gun safety

March 15, 2000
By: Jennifer Lutz
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Children demonstrating for gun safety has triggered accusations of illegal lobbying by a top GOP legislator.

Taxpayers paid $500 for a chartered bus plus the regular salary of two teachers for St. Louis County school children to travel to the capitol to speak against gun violence.

"Technically that's illegal," said Rep. Todd Akin, R-St. Louis County. "You're not allowed to use taxpayer money to advocate a particular position."

The 65 students missed a day of school to lay out 726 pairs of shoes. That represented the number of Missourians the group claims died in 1998 by gunfire anywhere in the world.

"These people will march no more," said Mary Wertsch, a parent and organizer with Brittany Woods Middle School in University City. "It's a dramatic display of how many people are killed by guns."

However, according to Capt. Jim Watson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, only 265 Missourians were actually killed by firearms in Missouri in 1998.

The students were part of an afterschool program, S.O.S, Save Our Society, to advocate an end to gun violence.

"They learned more today about civics than they would ever learn out of a book in a classroom," said Sen. Betty Sims, R-St. Louis County.

However, Akin said that he wished the laws about using taxpayer money for a specific position were more strictly adhered to.

The student's silent march is part of a larger attempt to raise 30,000 pairs of shoes to demonstrate the number of Americans killed by guns, said Mary Wertsch, a parent at Brittany Woods.

"Kids do care," said Alai Dagogo-Jack, a seventh grader from the middle school. "This shows we have a voice and we can make a difference."

The shoes won't stop their parade in Missouri. They will be shipped to the outside of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions later this summer.

The gun-focused rallies started earlier in the morning when the National Rifle Association held a rally to advocate gun education. Approximately 150 people attended to learn more about the NRA's "Eddie Eagle" program. This teaches children if they see a gun not to touch it, leave the area and tell an adult.

"You need to totally deny access to little fingers," said Gil Pyles, director of the Second Amendment Coalition of Missouri. "If you teach Eddie Eagle, how can you go wrong?"

A bill that passed out of the state Senate Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence committee, would require that manufacturers install locks on all handguns. Gov. Mel Carnahan has put the child-safety lock proposal on his legislative agenda for this year's session.

Although many gun-rights advocates in the legislature have supported the governor's proposal, some of the demonstrators in the statehouse Wednesday disagreed.

"Trigger locks are the wrong answer," Pyles said. "Safety training is the right answer."

Al Davies, a certified NRA firearms instructor, said programs like "Eddie Eagle" are the best way to stop the misuse of firearms. Davies also said the St. Louis student's demonstration is the wrong idea.

"These are a bunch of misinformed, misled children," he said. "If you don't ever tell kids about guns, it's an accident waiting to happen."

Earl Cadle, a NRA instructor, agreed and said the trigger locks won't solve any problems.

"Bad guys aren't using locks anyway," he said.