EUGENE, Ore. -- Kids and guns: two words that are usually connected with tragedy, but for Derek LeBlanc, the two go hand in hand, all in the name of safety.
LeBlanc is president of the Kids S.A.F.E. Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at helping protect families and children through firearm safety education with hands-on experience developing safe practices on and off the range.
“We teach our kids how to swim because we don’t want them to drown, so this is the same concept,” LeBlanc said.
According to the Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance -- a coalition of physicians, law enforcement and others -- there were 67 reported cases in the U.S. involving children who accidentally shot themselves or another child. And that’s just so far this year.
Back in April in California, two cousins were playing in a vehicle when they found a gun. One shot the other thinking it was unloaded.
Another case back in March happened when a 3-year-old picked up a gun in his home, shooting himself when it fired.
And our area has experienced heartbreak too. Back in November 2018, a juvenile accidentally died in a gun incident near Harrisburg.
The first lesson in LeBlanc’s class is what to do if you see a firearm.
“Stop, don’t touch, run away, tell a grown up,” LeBlanc said. “We are not advocating to pick it up. Get out of the situation.”
The National Crime Prevention Council says 1.4 million homes have firearms stored in a way that makes them accessible to 2.6 million children, but even if you don’t have a firearm in your home, your child could come across one somewhere else.
“They could be at a friend’s house or somewhere where a gun is available and they may be unfamiliar,” said Jeff Blonde with the Eugene Police Department’s Crime Prevention Department.
Most of the cases seen on the Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance page involved the child being at home, but that isn’t always the case.
“In this climate, I think the opportunity for him to run into one has increased,” said Jennifer Grotte, a mother and participant of a Kids S.A.F.E. class.
The statistics were troubling enough to get the attention of Oregon lawmakers.
LeBlanc helped introduce Senate Bill 801, which would have authorized school districts and public charter schools to offer and annual 30-minute firearm safety and accident prevention class to first-grade students.
“It was all about education, safety; it was not about pushing guns on kids,” LeBlanc said. “It was about giving them the tools to be successful if they were ever in that position.”
The bill didn’t make it very far, but LeBlanc said he’s gearing up for the next legislative session.
Kurt Goldenstein, a high school teacher of more than 30 years, said he wouldn’t mind teaching his high school students about gun safety but was uncertain when it came to younger children.
“I don’t think people understand how much time and effort schools go through just to prepare for shooters so children can be aware of them, but if kids should know how to use a gun should fall back on parents, family, and fall back to hunter safety courses,” he said.
Through Kids S.A.F.E. Foundation, thousands of kids have now learned basic safety rules and gun safety, helping lower accidental deaths with firearms involving children.
To learn more about the nonprofit, click here.