ANNAPOLIS – Last week was the first time Carole Price heard the 911 call of a desperate 9-year-old boy asking the operator when Price’s 13-year-old son would wake up.
What the boy didn’t understand was that John Price would never wake up again.
Price told the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee Wednesday that her son would still be alive today if the 9-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl who gave John CPR after the shooting in 1998 were taught that guns are lethal.
Price was testifying on behalf of a gun safety education bill sponsored by Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore. The bill would require gun safety lessons be taught from kindergarten through high school. Schools would have the option of asking State Police and advocacy groups such as the National Rifle Association to participate in the classes.
Maryland would become the first state in the country to require gun safety be taught in schools. Carroll County recently became the first county in the country to have a gun safety education program.
“Too many children don’t realize the danger of handguns,” said Hoffman, flanked by Price, 36, and her husband John, 39. “Children can’t differentiate reality from fantasy.”
“If any of you could have heard the screaming and crying . . . of the 9- year-old saying it was an accident and asking if he was going to be in trouble,” said Price, while Hoffman stroked her back when her voice cracked with grief. “And the 12-year-old girl giving John CPR and asking, `When is John going to wake up?’ . . . If any of you heard that, none of you would doubt the value of (the gun safety education bill).”
Price, president of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, led the testimony of supporters, including State Police Superintendent Col. David B. Mitchell and members of the Million Mom March.
“Are our children in danger? Yes,” Mitchell said. More than 2,000 regulated firearms were sold in Maryland last month, he said.
Gun safety is a bipartisan issue, yet Republicans are offering a different version of the bill.
Under legislation proposed by Delegate Carmen Amedori, R-Carroll, State Police or the NRA’s `Eddie Eagle’ program, not teachers, would educate children about gun safety. And the classes would end in sixth grade.
“The NRA is known traditionally for its gun safety education,” Amedori said. “Teachers don’t have the expertise to teach this program.”
State and local school representatives said class curriculum should be determined by the boards of education, not the Legislature.
Schools “don’t want to be dictated what they teach,” said Neil Greenberger, Department of Education spokesman.
“We certainly support efforts” to teach gun safety, said Carl Smith, Maryland Association of Boards of Education spokesman. But it should be up to the local boards of education to decide. “It’s an issue of who makes the decisions.”
At an earlier House hearing on similar gun safety legislation, no opponents testified. The House measure is sponsored by Delegate Maggie L. McIntosh, D-Baltimore.
But two opponents criticized the Senate version Wednesday – a representative of Maryland’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and an Annapolis City Council member.
“I think we as adults and as caretakers should have the responsibility of educating our children,” said Councilwoman Cynthia Carter.
Instead of education, penalties against minors using guns are needed, said Helda D. Barrett, NAACP spokeswoman.
“(Gun safety education) has the potential for opening the door to an increased fascination of firearms for school-age children,” Barrett said.
But fascination with guns and their glamorization via television and video games are reasons why gun safety education is needed, said Price, who keeps a brooch with her son’s picture close to her heart. “We need to be the first state in the country to mandate gun safety education,” Price said. “We owe it to our children.” – 30 – CNS-02-7-01