The Gun Test
KWWL, Iowa’s News Channel 7, and the Waterloo Police Department recently broke Iowa law when they knowingly allowed eight pre-school and kindergarten students access to a pistol for a story. The illegal activity was part of heavily promoted and highly edited sweeps story KWWL titled “The Gun Test” which aired the night of February 11th.
The Gun Test story featured KWWL anchor Amanda Goodman and Lieutenant Aaron McClelland of the Waterloo Police Department. The two placed an unloaded pistol in a KWWL conference room next to a pile of toys. Before letting the kids in the room Lt. McClelland repeatedly told the kid’s moms the gun unloaded but that “it looks and feels, because it is, an actual weapon.” Then eight unsupervised children were ushered into the conference room to play. All the while Goodman, McClelland and the children’s parents watched from another room.
Everything was recorded and edited heavily into a seven minute sweeps story designed to drum up ratings for KWWL. In the story the gun is placed between the arm of a couch and a cushion, right next to a pile of toys. The kids find the gun in a matter of seconds and begin to play with it. Passing it around. Pointing it at one another. The scene is designed to be dramatic, and it is. But it is also illegal under Iowa law.
Iowa Code 724.22 subsection 5 clearly states:
"A parent or guardian or spouse who is twenty-one years of age or older, of a person fourteen years of age but less than twenty-one may allow the person to possess a pistol or revolver or the ammunition therefor for any lawful purpose while under the direct supervision of the parent or guardian..."
Goodman makes it perfectly clear early in the story that this group of children are pre-school and kindergarten aged, far from the 14-year-old minimum age required by Iowa law. This means Goodman, Lt. McClelland, and every single one of the mom’s featured in this story are committing a crime. Each is committing a serious misdemeanor punishable by up one year imprisonment and an $625 fine. If they’re caught again, they risk felony charges.
The law that was broken in this story directly impacts lives of thousands of Iowa families who want nothing more than to be free to teach their kids to respect firearms without fear of committing a criminal act. These are families like the Gibsons of Johnston, Iowa. Some of you may remember the Gibson’s story. In April 2014 Nathan Gibson took his two young daughters to an Iowa shooting range. They were practicing with a Walther P22 pistol when a rangemaster informed them they were breaking the law and needed to leave. The Gibsons were in absolute disbelief, as far as they knew they were doing everything right. After doing some digging they discovered a little known Iowa law (724.22) that barred anyone under the age of 14 from possessing a pistol or revolver, even under direct adult supervision. Ever since, the Gibson family has been fighting to change Iowa law.
“The reason kids are dying the parents don’t teach their kids gun safety, so a kid picks up a handgun, they don’t know what it is or what to do with it,” Meredith Gibson recently told an Iowa House Judiciary Subcommittee.
Setup to fail
KWWL’s Gun Test Story was billed as an “experiment.” Goodman’s intentions with this experiment may have been noble, but this test was deliberately flawed from the start and designed to maximize fear. This experiment was laid out so that these kids would quickly find the gun and let their natural curiosity take over so the news station could trump up the fear factor. Showing unsupervised kids with a gun and close up cutaways of distraught, teary eyed moms.
Make no mistake, there was an agenda at play here. These kids were setup to fail.
“It took just seconds. A room full of toys – a hidden gun – and curious children… it took just seconds.” Says Goodman. It took just seconds because the gun was never hidden in the first place. It was sitting there, in plain sight, only halfway stuffed into a couch cushion, so poorly hidden that it can be seen from across the room in the opening shot of the story.
Not only was the gun not hidden, it was placed right next to a pile of toys. The only pile of toys in the entire room. The rest of the conference room was completely void of any toys. Except for the couch, which conveniently had a gun nearly touching a pile of stuffed animals, frisbees and balls. There’s no question why “it took just seconds.”
Educated kids = safer kids
Of the eight children in the KWWL Gun Test only six actually laid their hands on the gun. The group was a mix of kids from a variety of families. Some of the families are gun owners, some are not. However it must be noted that the two children who didn’t pick up the gun come from gun owning families whose parents had educated them about gun safety. This is encouraging, but there’s still work to be done. The Iowa Firearms Coalition is long time advocate of firearms safety. As demonstrated by KWWL’s Gun Test talking about guns and educating kids is a simple gun safety measure that clearly pays huge dividends. Unfortunately as KWWL now knows, Iowa law handicaps parents ability to remove their children’s natural curiosity.
The National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle program addresses scenarios such as the one laid out in KWWL’s Gun Test head on. For those of you not familiar the Eddie Eagle program is specifically tailored to teach young kids what to do should they ever come across a gun. The message is simple, if you see a gun:
2) Don’t Touch
3) Run Away
4) Tell A Grown-up
Whether you’re a gun owner or not, teaching your kids this message is invaluable and the Iowa Firearms Coalition highly encourages it. Reviewing this message on a regular basis is critical. It won’t be successful if it’s just a one time thing. Teaching kids to respect firearms, and addressing their natural curiosity are two of the very best things that can be done to keep kids safe.
Child Safety & Parental Rights Act
KWWL, it’s great that you want to talk about gun safety. We’re in agreement, everyone, everywhere to talk to their kids about what to do if they find a gun. But please, don’t stack the deck against a group of small children for dramatic effect during a ratings period. Instead of setting them up to fail, why not set them up for success? At the very least you could have brought in an additional group of kids and prepped them using the Eddie Eagle program then aired the results of that experiment as well.
And finally, please, before putting unsupervised kids in a room with a gun, even if it is unloaded, make sure you know the law. We all know that ignorance of the law is no excuse. That’s especially true if you’re breaking the law in front of tens of thousands of impressionable viewers.
The Iowa Firearms Coalition is leading the charge to repeal Iowa’s ban on supervised youth shooting and gun safety training. House File 2042, the Youth Safety and Parental Rights Act would give parents the freedom to educate their kids on proper gun safety at a young age. True gun safety can’t be legislated. Our kids must be educated. Removing a child’s natural curiosity and teaching them to stop, don’t touch, leave, and tell a grown up is the only way to keep them safe in every situation. “Curiosity is killing our kids” says Goodman, quite simply we want Iowa families to have every option available to remove that curiosity.
The Iowa Firearms Coalition is fighting for this repeal so people like Ms. Goodman, and Lieutenant McClelland don’t have to worry about committing a criminal act when teaching kids about gun safety. But most importantly we’re fighting for change because the safety of tens of thousands of families and children in Iowa should never be put in jeopardy because a misguided and little known law makes teaching kids to shoot a crime.
Iowa Firearms Coalition is an entirely volunteer, grassroots, Second Amendment advocacy group. Responsible for bringing uniformity to Iowa’s Permit to Carry process, IFC’s members work to protect and enhance Second Amendment rights in Iowa. An affiliate of the National Rifle Association, the IFC actively seeks to foster and promote the shooting sports. Sign up for our email list for the latest on Second Amendment issues in Iowa. You can support our work by becoming a member, or making a donation.